Massa surprises and delights with Monaco pole

Massa surprises and delights with Monaco pole

Taking Kimi Raikkonen's approach literally, the Grand Prix of Monaco is now over and his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa has won. That's how vital qualifying is to the richest event in Grand Prix racing, at the only Formula One event that pays no ...

Taking Kimi Raikkonen's approach literally, the Grand Prix of Monaco is now over and his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa has won. That's how vital qualifying is to the richest event in Grand Prix racing, at the only Formula One event that pays no rights fees to be included in the FIA World Championship.

Felipe Massa, Scuderia Ferrari .
Photo by xpb.cc.

Of course, a rain prediction could throw expectations out the window as a wet race could make the outcome up for grabs.

As it is, Massa upset the calculations of those who had accorded the race to McLaren Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton, last year's runner-up, who looked set to claim his rightful F1 victory as he had in every other series he has raced through the principality's streets. The pole position is Massa's second consecutive and third this season. It is Ferrari's third consecutive. Should Massa emerge Sunday's winner, it will mark Ferrari's first victory from pole since 1979 when Jody Scheckter won on Circuit de Monaco.

Massa appeared in a post-qualifying interview session with the biggest, brightest, happiest smile F1 has seen since the final victory of retired Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher. Schumacher acolyte Massa arrived in the principality grumping about his dislike for the place. He might have changed that Saturday.

"I still cannot believe it I'm on pole," Massa said. "I mean, it's unbelievable. I was pushing very hard; during these days you learn to drive here because it was the place which I was trailing every time I come here. On the first day I was struggling still a little bit on the second sector. But then I managed to put everything together to learn some tricks in some corners and also having a great car. So I still can't believe I'm on pole."

The third row was taken by BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica and Williams Toyota's Nico Rosberg. Each had popped to second-fastest before being supplanted, Kubica in third qualifying and Rosberg in second. Following them were Renault's Fernando Alonso, whose attempt at a third consecutive victory might need heavenly intervention through chaos-making rain, and Toyota's Jarno Trulli, the Italian qualifying ace who nearly left late even reaching third quali.

Rounding out the top 10 are Red Bulls, the only team apart from Ferrari and McLaren to put both cars through to final qualifying. Mark Webber came ninth ahead of David Coulthard, who clobbered the Armco coming out of the tunnel to end his second quali session and preclude taking part in Q3. Coulthard's RB4 lost a wheel and sent the Scot the full way down the escape road.

David Coulthard, Red Bull Racing .
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I was doing around 185 km/h when the incident happened," Coulthard said, "and I went into the wall quite hard. When I hit the brakes, the car turned. I was going over a rise so it's possible I locked the real axle, but normally when that happens, you can just release the brake a little bit. We'll check the car and see if anything was going wrong at the rear, as it turned very quickly."

Massa said his first try wasn't bad but a couple corners eluded him. When he saw he was close to the times of Raikkonen and Hamilton, who had pegged fast laps from the moment he rolled onto macadam, the Brazilian thought he had a shot. He took it at the last possible second, snatching top spot from a seemingly secure Raikkonen. Raikkonen's 1 minute, 15.815 seconds appeared to be as good as it would get until Massa found a 1:15.787.

"I was able to do a perfect lap," Massa said. "In Monaco, it is almost impossible to have a perfect lap." He said he picked up time throughout the lap, braking late in Turn 1 and exiting well, so he merely repeated that throughout. Easy-peasy.

Upon reflection, the Brazilian, whose countrymen expect Senna-like achievements but who've seen bumpy progress instead, said he has revised his view of the best-known street circuit in racing where the triple world champion Senna won six times.

"I have got pole on a track where I have always struggled," he said. "Now I am beginning to like it a bit more. I managed to do a perfect lap with a great car. This result shows that if you work hard and with attention to detail, you can do it everywhere. After finishing the lap, nobody said anything to me on the radio and then, unexpectedly, Rob (Smedley, Massa race engineer) screamed, 'Incredible, you're on pole!' and I was laughing all the way around my in-lap as I just couldn't stop."

Raikkonen said the first few corners were his bugaboo. "I managed to do a good lap apart from the first few corners, so not enough," he said. "Tomorrow we probably have pretty difficult conditions so it's going to be good fun."

Hamilton supplanted his teammate, Heikki Raikkonen, on his best lap.

Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I think we did a solid job," Hamilton said. "For sure, we anticipated we would be a little bit quicker, but I guess we were surprised by the Ferrari's pace. Both my laps were quite good. I was quite happy with the way the whole session went. No problems with traffic. We lost a little bit, I think, in the last sector, but, generally, the car felt good and I felt I had strung together two solid laps. The time just wasn't there."

Toyota's Timo Glock heads the second 10. He lines up with Honda's Jenson Button ahead of Nick Heidfeld in the second BMW Sauber, who said he couldn't heat the F1.08's tires quickly enough, and Kazuki Nakajima in the second Williams, who said he had trouble connecting all the bits to produce a smooth, quick lap.

Then follow Rubens Barrichello in the second Honda, who said he had trouble with traffic, and Sebastien Bourdais for Scuderia Toro Rosso, who said he hasn't come to grips with the car's behavior. Timed to the ninth row are Nelsinho Piquet in the second Renault and Sebastian Vettel in the second Toro Rosso. Piquet said he has brake problems and must hope for rain to put the race up for grabs. Because Vettel's is a new chassis, the STR3, he has been assessed five grid spots in penalty owing to rules pertaining to gearbox changes. Vettel said he also hopes for rain, "Lots of rain!"

The Force India of Adrian Sutil stays off the back row but not that of Giancarlo Fisichella, whose 200th F1 start will be an added challenge as he also took a five-spot grid penalty for needing a gearbox change during final practice. Fisichella said he was held up in qualifying by Barrichello; stewards are investigating.

NOTES: McLaren's Kovalainen was quickest in final practice, before qualifying, after which the Finn promptly smacked the MP4-23 into a barrier. ... Both Force India drivers as well as Kovalainen were fined Thursday for pit-lane speeding. Alonso was called to explain to stewards why he drove a full circuit with a parts-spewing car after clobbering the barrier at Sainte Devote during second practice. ... F1 drivers won the annual football game against a crew of delebrities put together by Prince Albert. ... McLaren Mercedes, exiled to the slow end pf the pit lane to reflect their shamed status at their 2007 points stripping, were moved to midlane.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Nico Rosberg , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima , Adrian Sutil
Teams Ferrari , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams