The home crowds had something to cheer about in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa put his Ferrari on pole position at Interlagos. Massa clocked 1:10.680 for the front of the grid and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen will line up alongside in second. Third went to Toyota's Jarno Trulli while Renault's title defender Fernando Alonso will go from fourth.
Unfortunately, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari suffered a fuel pressure problem and he failed to set a time in the last 15 minute session, so will go from 10th unless his car needs an engine change. Technical director Ross Brawn thinks not but Ferrari needs to investigate the problem thoroughly.
The conditions were fine and dry on Saturday afternoon at Interlagos with the track temperature similar to the earlier practice session, in the low to mid thirties. Super Aguri's Sakon Yamamoto was first out on the circuit then the Spyker MF1s of Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers and Toyota's Ralf Schumacher and Trulli.
The second Super Aguri of Takuma Sato joined them and, meanwhile, Massa's Ferrari appeared to have some kind of work being done on it, the mechanics swarming over it in the garage. Yamamoto clocked 1:15.244 to start with but Monteiro spun off and caused brief yellow flags. Albers went to the top with a 1:13.498 and Ralf took second.
Red Bull's Robert Doornbos had a brief spell fastest then Trulli was next up, 1:12.719. The second Red Bull of David Coulthard took sixth and the Honda of Rubens Barrichello fifth, while Barrichello's teammate Jenson Button went one better for fourth. Pedro de la Rosa was the first McLaren on the time sheet, fifth, and Nico Rosberg the first Williams, 1:12.690.
Scott Speed's Toro Rosso slotted into sixth and the second Williams of Mark Webber went to the top, 1:12.540. Michael and Raikkonen were both on flyers and Michael just edged the Finn out, 1:11.565. Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso was 10th and the Renaults of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella appeared.
Massa managed to make it out on track with five minutes of the first 15 to go and clocked a scorching 1:10.643 for the top, almost a second up on Michael. Alonso posted third and Fisichella followed into fifth and the BMW Saubers of Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were last to get onto the time sheet, fifth and ninth respectively.
In the final minutes Trulli, de la Rosa and Ralf improved into the top six and Rosberg to seventh then Webber took the spot. Speed in 17th led the list of six to be dropped, followed by Albers, Coulthard, Sato and Yamamoto and of course the already-out Monteiro. Massa remained fastest from Michael and Ralf in second and third.
Nobody was in a hurry to get going for the second session but after a couple of minutes Trulli and Ralf headed out. Trulli's 1:11.343 got the ball rolling, quicker than he was in the first session, and Ralf took second but lost it to Kubica. Heidfeld took fourth and Liuzzi fifth then Rosberg went into fourth. Ralf returned to second and Barrichello slotted into third.
Webber posted fifth on his first flyer while Fisichella, Alonso and de la Rosa were all lapping together and it looked like the track was improving. Fisichella took sixth then de la Rosa nabbed it and Alonso went to the top, 1:11.148. It was short lived as Michael clocked 1:10.313, while Raikkonen managed a bit of a scrappy ninth.
Massa couldn't match Michael this time and took second four tenths off, the Ferraris the only ones in the 1:10 bracket. There was a lot of last minute activity, only the top three -- the Ferraris and Alonso -- opting not to go out again. Button couldn't make the top 10 but Raikkonen moved up to fifth.
Fisichella got himself up to sixth and Barrichello managed eighth, while both Toyotas and BMWs went through. Webber in 11th was the first of the next half a dozen to be dropped then came de la Rosa, Rosberg, Button, Doornbos and Liuzzi. Doornbos will drop to the back due to an engine change on Friday. Michael stayed top from Massa and Alonso.
With race fuel on board the remaining 10 went out for the fight for pole, starting with the usual fuel burning. The Ferraris led out but Michael seemed a bit slow, letting other cars past him. The Ferrari sounded rough and he coasted back to the pits and was pushed into the garage. Not good -- he needed to be out there burning fuel to lighten his car.
Meanwhile, Massa had clocked 1:14.149 with Heidfeld and Barrichello behind him. Ralf moved into second then Raikkonen took the spot and Massa was still at the top, down into the 1:13 area, as were others. It appeared that whatever Michael's problem was it was sizeable as he was not leaving the garage, although he was still in the car.
Cars ducked in for tyre changes ready for the final charge and the times cycled through quickly. Fisichella went fastest, 1:12.147, then Kubica, 1:12.131. Alonso was next, 1:11.863, then Raikkonen's 1:11.649. Massa was flying and went over eight tenths up, 1:10.842 and the Brazilian was a good bet for pole. But there were still a couple of minutes to go.
Michael was out of the car so that was the end of his qualifying -- very disappointing for the German. Trulli went second then Alonso nabbed the spot but Raikkonen was roaring around and took the position. Massa was even faster, 1:10.680, really flying to pole in front of his home crowds and Barrichello also made them cheer with fifth.
It's a real shame for Michael in his last qualifying but it's not over until the chequered flag. It was apparently a fuel pressure problem but it doesn't look as if he will need an engine change. It was a deserving pole position for Massa and with Michael's problems the Brazilian surely has a shot at a home victory on Sunday.
"It's a dream for me to be on pole here at Interlagos, wearing the colours of my country while sitting in a Ferrari," he said. "I will never forget this day! I am very happy and I want to thank the team for having provided me with a perfect car. Tomorrow, I will do my utmost to win. I know it will be a tough race but everything is in place for me to achieve that goal."
A good lap for Raikkonen to start on the front row -- McLaren desperately wants to get this victory, which would be its only one of the year. It would be a good way for Raikkonen to end his McLaren career but it's hard to imagine that the car is up to the pace of Ferrari. However, having said that, anything can happen, as we've already seen.
"This is a great result for all of us today," said the Finn. "We did not turn the engine up till the final session so we were not sure where we would be, but I really gave it 100% on the final lap. For sure we will be fighting for the win now, it is going to be difficult, but our pace is strong in the long runs."
Trulli was a bit of a surprise in third, as Toyota ended way down the times in the morning practice. Toyota has been known to run light in qualifying but whatever the case Trulli had it hooked up. Ralf was a little further off in seventh but both should be in with a chance of decent points in the race.
"So far this weekend we have looked pretty strong so I am confident because the car is performing well and we have everything we need to have a good race tomorrow," Trulli commented. "Our Bridgestone tyres are looking very competitive so I am looking forward to tomorrow when I hope I can challenge for the podium."
Alonso was happy enough with fourth and he's already said the win is not his priority this weekend. We all know that one point is his priority, so he can afford to not take too many chances. Fisichella finished sixth and Renault also has its sights set firmly on the constructors' title, so with Michael's problem the advantage is perhaps in the French squad's favour.
Barrichello put in a reasonable performance to take fifth but it's fair to say Honda has been lacking this season. Button was disappointed not to make the top 10, an electronic gremlin interfering with his traction control. The BMWs have regularly been in the top 10, if only just, and Heidfeld was ahead of Kubica, eighth and ninth.
Given recent unexpected problems -- Alonso's engine at Monza and Michael's at Suzuka, and now Michael's further woes -- it's probably not a good idea to make any predictions about Sunday's race. Final top ten classification: Massa, Raikkonen, Trulli, Alonso, Barrichello, Fisichella, R. Schumacher, Heidfeld, Kubica, M. Schumacher.