Ferrari's Felipe Massa scooped his fourth pole position of the Formula One season Saturday with a last-lap dash over the new, 3.3-mile street circuit in Valencia, Spain, for Sunday's European Grand Prix. His effort capped furious work by driving...
Ferrari's Felipe Massa scooped his fourth pole position of the Formula One season Saturday with a last-lap dash over the new, 3.3-mile street circuit in Valencia, Spain, for Sunday's European Grand Prix. His effort capped furious work by driving title rivals Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes and Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen as well as Toyota ace Jarno Trulli and Sebastian Vettel, whose top-notch work for Ferrari-powered Scuderia Toro Rosso marked the day as a possible first pole for the young German. Vettel and teammate Sebastien Bourdais reached final qualifying for the first time.
Massa was the only driver with a sub-1-minute, 39-second time. His 1:38.989 supplanted Hamilton's 1:39.199. Massa and Hamilton take the front row for the race ahead of Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber and Raikkonen, McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen and Vettel, Trulli and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, who languished in the first quali drop zone before a Herculean effort saw him advance, Williams's Nico Rosberg and Bourdais. The second five rows are Williams's Kazuki Nakajima and Renault's Fernando Alonso, Toyota's Timo Glock and Red Bull's Mark Webber, Renault's Nelsinho Piquet and Honda's Jenson Button, Red Bull's David Coulthard and Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella, and Honda's Rubens Barrichello and Force India's Adrian Sutil.
"Starting on the pole here for the first time, for sure, is very nice," Massa said. "The track here is not very easy, especially the surface is a little bit slippery, so to make a perfect lap is very difficult. I had a good lap so was able to score the pole position, and I think I have a good car for the race tomorrow."
Massa seeks to return to the top of the drivers' championship table after a stellar effort at the most recent race, in Hungary, saw an assured victory go up in the smoke of a blown engine with three laps to run. Not finishing dropped him to third behind Raikkonen with Hamilton holding a slim lead.
"I think I was already down a tenth or two-tenths after the first corner," Hamilton said. "It was OK through Turns 2 and 3 and through 4 and 5 didn't seem to be as strong as I would like but generally, it wasn't too bad."
Kubica reassumed his place at the front after showing fastest in final practice.
"Has been very good qualifying for myself and the team after some unlucky races lately," Kubica said. 'The pace of the F1.08 is not as bad as it was before, the only thing a little gap still to Ferrari and McLaren. Yeah, qualifying went pretty smooth. Only the weather was playing a little bit."
Overnight rain washed the circuit after Friday's two practice sessions laid down adhesive rubber on a racing line and rain drops spattered the second qualifying session, but Kubica said it had no effect. A bigger factor might have been a new circuit with seven of 24 turns at 60 mph or slower where straight lengths make possible a 120-mph lap average. Spaniard Alonso lost advancing from Quali 2 when he went wide onto curbing. Hamilton wobbled through his lap with better result.
"I am understandably disappointed with the qualifying session because I had other hopes for today," Alonso said. "The race tomorrow will therefore be more difficult, but, as we are on a street course, anything is possible in the race. We must continue working hard this evening to try and work out the best strategy that will allow us to be ready for all eventualities tomorrow, such as a safety car period, which seems quite likely."
Renault strategy -- one-stop refueling -- produced a second-place for F1 rookie Piquet at the German Grand Prix, which had a safety-car period.
Vettel's pace-setting ways ended in the final minutes of final qualifying when big boys Hamilton, Raikkonen and Massa came to the fore. Still, the 21-year-old showed why big team Red Bull has promoted him from Toro Rosso; he will drive next to Webber next season after Coulthard retires.
"My best result ever, so I am pleased as it has taken a bit of time to improve on my P7 that I did in my first grand prix," Vettel said. "It's been a fantastic day for us. We made some changes to the setup overnight and they all turned out to be positive. the team worked hard to make the most of the data. We didn't expect to do this well here, but it's a good thing to have both cars in Q3."
Bourdais, too, was upbeat.
"This wasn't bad," Bourdais said. "I am still having my problem of not finding grip on the option tire, so we need to work on that. But I am happy that our performance is getting better. I'm really pleased to be in Q3 for the first time. It's a good feeling as I kept waiting to hear that I dropped down to 11 or 12."
Trulli showed why he remains a force in F1. After mediocre times in Friday practices and missing Saturday's practice, the Italian veteran punched his way to the top of the charts before settling into seventh on the grid. "After our difficult practice yesterday, we completely changed my setup for today," Trulli said. "Then we had a gearbox oil pump problem this morning that meant I could not try it out. So, in a way, I was driving blind this afternoon. But I used my experience. I concentrated very hard and I made it through into Q3. I made a mistake on my last run, but I am still very happy with what we achieved today."
His teammate Glock had looked to be the one to put Toyota's fortunes together in Valencia, but the German struggled with getting heat into his tires.
Most sheepish of qualifiers might be four of the first five knocked out of qualifying. Button, Coulthard, Fisichella and Barrichello represent the bulk of experience in the field, an average of more than 150 starts each. Fisichella, whose practice time put him midfield 24 hours before, said he felt he got the most out of the Force India VJM01 and the effort reflected how close all drivers' times are on the new course. Barrichello cited balance problems and rear lockups. Button blamed tire choice.
FIA race director Charlie Whiting said the painted grid-spot indicators will be changed from the left to the right side of the track to accommodate the driving line that has emerged since the start of the race weekend. ... McLaren Mercedes supremo Ron Dennis has told a Valencia publication he expects to "step back" in the near future after running the team for nearly 30 years. ... Alonso has handed out stickers depicting the Spanish flag for drivers for the weekend. The stickers honor the victims of the airliner crash that took 153 lives in Madrid on Wednesday.