F1

Massa pips Raikkonen to Malaysian GP pole

Massa pips Raikkonen to Malaysian GP pole

The rain held off and Ferrari came on as form returned to the Formula One grid for the second race of the season. Brazilian Felipe Massa grabbed pole for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix with a 1 minute, 35.748-second tour of the 3.44-mile Sepang ...

The rain held off and Ferrari came on as form returned to the Formula One grid for the second race of the season. Brazilian Felipe Massa grabbed pole for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix with a 1 minute, 35.748-second tour of the 3.44-mile Sepang Circuit. Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen followed a half-second on to lock out the front row. The McLaren Mercedes of Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton aligned on Row Two.

Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari, F2008.
Photo by xpb.cc.
They were followed by qualifying ace Jarno Trulli in a Toyota, then came the BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld, ahead of Red Bull's Mark Webber, Renault's Fernando Alonso, and Toyota's Timo Glock.

The pole was Massa's second in succession at the Sepang track and Ferrari's seventh in the 10 grands prix staged to date on the Malay Peninsula.

"I struggled with grip in Q2," Massa said. "I didn't do a very good last sector. I was braking too early for Turn 14. It was a stupid lap. Then I managed to put everything together in Q3 for a great lap."

Indeed, he nailed the effort with such authority that world champ Raikkonen, whose interviews find him extolling the virtues of racing his teammate first, left him racing his teammate first and not looking as if he liked it. The two had traded fast laps throughout qualifying. Raikkonen's 1:34.1 in Q2 was best time of the day but the Finn couldn't duplicate it when it mattered, for pole position. The series' knockout qualifying rules require advancing through each of three sessions; times do not carry over.

"I was not too happy in Q3," Raikkonen said. "I couldn't get the grip. But second is a good place to start."

Raikkonen said he expected Ferrari's unexpected trouble at the Albert Park circuit in Melbourne, Australia, last week would be eradicated this week.

"This is a traditional track, a more normal track," he said. "The car is quick all along here. I think so our car should be pretty fast everywhere."

Massa was all too aware of Ferrari struggles in last week's Australian Grand Prix. Neither car finished. He went off on the first lap and later collided with David Coulthard's Red Bull to retire. Raikkonen qualified 15th, went off twice and eventually suffered engine failure. Raikkonen only reached a points placing in the attrition-plagued race because Honda driver Rubens Barrichello was disqualified for running a red light at the end of the pit lane during a safety car-period stop.

"Our championship is starting now," Massa said. "What happened at the last race was incredible. We had a lot of problems that were not expected. Hopefully, we can put everything together for an expected championship."

The expression on the face of a dour-looking Kovalainen said as much as the Finn's words for the championship-leading McLaren team (14 points to Ferrari's one).

"I was hoping to do a couple places better," he said of his third gird spot. "Ferrari is very fast. We had nothing more to give today. Third place was the maximum. It was a clean lap.

"We didn't see the true pace of the Ferraris (in Melbourne) so this is more representative a read. By no means the game's over."

The overriding question had been: When will it rain?

Gathering clouds and cooling temperatures -- if 84 degrees Fahrenheit with corresponding humidity can be considered coolish -- added skyward speculation.

"Near the end there were a couple drops," Massa said. It didn't affect "performance."

As rain held off, the excitement came in the form of final finishers avoiding drivers who had finished flying laps and suddenly slowed to save fuel. BMW Sauber's Heidfeld and Renault's Alonso were left in the precarious position of weaving through cars in pursuit of hot laps.

Tires issues resulting from the track's changing temperatures added a challenge in the second session. Soft compounds were hauled out for teams that couldn't find speed with expected ease.

Australia's prominence for the Williams team faded as Nico Rosberg could not advance from the second qualifying session. He failed to improve from 13th, instead dropping to 16th. He had suffered hydraulic issues at the morning practice.

After going fourth-best in Friday practice, Honda's Jenson Button proved an accurate predictor that the RA108's speed wouldn't hold. Neither Honda advanced to the final qualifying session. Button was edged to 11th by the Toyota of German Timo Glock. Barrichello was pushed to 14th by Renault's Nelson Piquet. Piquet teammate Alonso lunged into the top 10 in the final moments of the session.

Coulthard followed Button in 12th spot, leaving Webber to carry Red Bull's hopes in the top 10.

Sebastian Vettel, who spoke confidently beforehand of reaching the second qualifying, did little else. The Toro Rosso driver reached as high as 12th before he was sent to 16th behind the Honda of Barrichello.

The first qualifying session was less threatened by showers.

The Super Aguris of Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson had no hope, but Adrian Sutil's Force India VJM01 kept Sato and Davidson from lining up together on the last row.

Sutil's teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, seemed solidly in the second session until Barrichello finished his final hot lap and bumped the Italian. Williams runner Kazuki Nakajima, who had earned a 10-spot grid penalty by punting Kubica out of the Australian Grand Prix, was only 18th best so he won't have far to go to the back.

Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais went off track on his flying lap with a brak failure to end his hopes of advancing into the second segment.

"The car felt good so we should have had a shot at Q2," the Frenchman explained. "But then I had a brake problem at the second corner, I pumped the brake pedal but when I got to Turn 4, the pedal went to the floor again and there was nothing I could do."

Heidfeld had gone quickest in the final free practice, scooping the top of the charts from Raikkonen and Massa, whose Ferraris had traded fast laps throughout the session. Heavily fueled McLarens were well down the charts. Trulli's Toyota was fourth-quickest in practice ahead of the Red Bulls of Webber then Coulthard. Piquet, Button, Vettel and Glock rounded out the top 10. Hamilton was 11th. Bourdais' engine was changed.

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