Felipe Massa took his first F1 pole position at Istanbul in 2006 and on his return this year he is once more at the front of the grid for the Turkish Grand Prix. The Ferrari man clocked 1:27.329 in what was a close fought battle for pole, just a few hundredths ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen put his Ferrari third and Fernando Alonso's McLaren was fourth.
It was hot and sunny at the start of the first 15 minute session, the track temperature around 50 degrees and the air in the mid thirties. First to take to the circuit were the Spykers of Adrian Sutil and Sakon Yamamoto, Super Aguri's Takuma Sato and the Toro Rosso of Tonio Liuzzi. Alex Wurz' Williams followed on and the second Toro Rosso of Sebastian Vettel.
Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli's Toyotas were also on track as well as the Renaults of Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella. Liuzzi's 1:29.451 was an early leader then Wurz took over with a 1:28.550. Teammate Nico Rosberg was on a charge and pipped Wurz with a 1:28.275. Fisichella slotted into third and Anthony Davidson's Super Aguri was fourth.
Kovalianen took second and Mark Webber's Red Bull arrived in fifth, followed by Jenson Button's Honda to fourth. Trulli then took the place and David Coulthard put his Red Bull third. Rubens Barrichello's Honda took seventh and Hamilton was the first of the big guns to go for a time. He clocked 1:27.513 for the top.
However, Raikkonen's Ferrari was on his heels and went a couple of tenths quicker for 1:27.294. The BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld posted third and fourth, followed by the McLaren of Alonso into second. Massa set fastest sectors in one and two but a poor final sector put him third.
Yamamoto had a spin but managed to keep going and with a couple of minutes to go the biggest name in danger of being dropped was Schumacher. Davidson's last flyer promoted him to eighth but teammate Sato was not on the same pace. Schumacher improved his time but it wasn't enough to save him, a dismal 18th for the Toyota.
Liuzzi in 17th led those to drop out, followed by Schumacher, Sato, Vettel, Sutil and Yamamoto. Raikkonen remained fastest from Alonso, Massa and Hamilton and the BMWs held station behind. Trulli made it through in 11th but Toyota's pace didn't appear as good as it was in the Friday practice sessions.
It was a slow start to the second qualifying session and a few minutes had ticked by before Wurz appeared on track in solitary splendour. He was on a reasonable lap but an error in the final sector caused him to abort it. Meanwhile, a few other cars were filtering out and Trulli clocked the first time, 1:28.368, but Webber posted 1:28.013 to take over.
Teammate Coulthard slotted into second then Raikkonen scorched round and clocked 1:26.029, the best of the weekend so far. Kovalainen took second then Hamilton snatched the place off him and Massa followed into third. Alonso was the last of the top quartet to do a quick lap and he demoted Raikkonen with a 1:26.841.
Meanwhile, Kubica had taken fifth and Heidfeld sixth with identical times. Towards the end the top six stayed put in the garages but the rest went out for a final try. Davidson took eighth but was it enough to keep him in the top 10? Fisichella was quicker, as was Rosberg and right at the end Trulli popped up in ninth to drop Davidson out.
Still, it was a good effort and Davidson will go from 11th. Next on the list was Webber, then Coulthard, Barrichello, Button[*] and Wurz. Alonso stayed at the top from Raikkonen, Hamilton and Massa and the stage was set for the final shootout. The fuel burning period got under way with Raikkonen at the head of the queue followed by Hamilton and Massa.
Alonso opted to wait until the rest were on track before heading out. Most of the cars were on the harder tyre compound. Raikkonen posted 1:28.501 for the top before the real action began. Kovalainen and Trulli were first in to change tyres, while Raikkonen and Hamilton were trading fastest sectors in the run up to their pit stop.
They both took the softer tyre but some remained on the hard compound. Trulli and Kovalainen clocked fourth and sixth, but the heavy hitters were on hot laps. Raikkonen managed 1:27.546 and Hamilton was four tenths down. Massa's 1:27.520 was provisional pole and Alonso slotted into third ahead of Hamilton.
It was a matter of hundredths between the top three and there was time for one more run. Alonso opted for the hard tyre for his last flyer but most others were on the soft. Raikkonen was quick in the first sector, as was Hamilton, then Massa even quicker. Raikkonen made a little mistake in the final sector which caused him to lose out.
Hamilton went to the top but Massa outdid him by just half a tenth, 1:27.329. Alonso couldn't beat him and slotted into fourth -- were the hard tyres a mistake? So, it was the second consecutive pole position for Massa in Turkey, the scene of his maiden F1 victory last year. If he can keep in front of Hamilton at the start he will be tough to beat.
"Sensational!" Massa declared. "After a nightmare of a weekend in Budapest I am very happy to have taken pole this afternoon. It was a very hard fight, right down to the nearest thousandth of a second. In the first two qualifying sessions I was not perfect, but I gave it my best shot in Q3, when the car was really well balanced. I am optimistic, because I think we are very competitive in race trim."
Hamilton might be on the front row but it's not a comfortable position to be in between the two Ferraris and he'll have a job on his hands on Sunday. But he's shown previously that he's no pushover so Massa and Raikkonen will not be overly-confident. Alonso's last flyer was a bit disappointing but, as usual, we'll have to see what strategies play out.
"In the first two qualifying sessions I struggled a little bit to get the most out of the tyres, but then it all came together on my final lap," said Hamilton. "The team have done a fantastic job working hard over the summer break to continue to bring developments to the car and it shows in the fact that we have been very competitive here all weekend. I think that we will have a good race tomorrow."
Raikkonen, obviously, would have preferred pole but is satisfied to be starting on the clean side of the grid. "In Q1 and Q2, the car was well balanced, but that was not the case in Q3, when I took on my fuel load for the first part of the race," he said. "I made a few small mistakes in the final two corners, which probably cost me pole. We have a very strong car in race trim, so there is every chance of getting a good result."
Kubica was fifth and Heidfeld sixth, another solid result for BMW and probably the best they could hope for against Ferrari and McLaren at the moment. Kovalainen was notable in seventh and Fisichella round out the list in 10th. Rosberg put in another good effort for eighth while Trulli salvaged ninth for Toyota.
Istanbul is not given to processional races so it will be interesting to see who comes out on top. Massa has proved in the past that he can be consistent for lap after lap in the lead -- but can he keep in front with rivals on the attack? Final top ten classification: Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Kubica, Heidfeld, Kovalainen, Rosberg, Trulli, Fisichella.
[*]Button will incur a 10 place grid demotion penalty as at the end of the second session his engine lost power and Honda confirmed it will have to be changed.