Ferrari's Felipe Massa won the battle in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, fighting with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton for the top spot They were quite evenly matched but Massa eventually outdid Hamilton, the Brazilian clocking 1:32.652 for pole...
Ferrari's Felipe Massa won the battle in qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix, fighting with McLaren's Lewis Hamilton for the top spot They were quite evenly matched but Massa eventually outdid Hamilton, the Brazilian clocking 1:32.652 for pole position. Hamilton did a fine job and will start from the front row for the first time and Kimi Raikkonen put his Ferrari third ahead of the McLaren of Fernando Alonso.
The track temperature was 44 degrees at the start of the first 15 minute session and the weather was sunny and a little hazy. David Coulthard, who had a problem with his Red Bull in practice, led out, long with Honda's Jenson Button and the Williams's of Alex Wurz and Nico Rosberg. The Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli also headed out.
The second Red Bull of Mark Webber was next, and the Spykers of Christijan Albers and Adrian Sutil. Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed, who also had problems in practice, followed on in the Toro Rossos along with Renault's Heikki Kovalainen and Giancarlo Fisichella. They too suffered in practice, gearbox and fuel pump issues and Kovalainen was reportedly in the spare car.
Wurz was an early leader, in the 1:34 bracket, then Rosberg took over. Trulli was next, then Webber, they were cycling through quite quickly. Liuzzi took his turn, while the Super Aguris of Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato went out on track. The second Honda of Rubens Barrichello was also out there and Davidson took the top spot, 1:33.403.
With about seven minutes to go the McLarens of Alonso and Hamilton appeared, as did Massa and the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. Barrichello improved to second and Hamilton had a slightly ragged first lap -- for him, anyway -- and posted 1:32.580. Raikkonen was the last man to go out with five minutes remaining.
Alonso slotted into second, half a second off Hamilton, and Heidfeld took third. Massa was flying in sector one and followed up well to clock 1:32.443 on the hard tyres. Raikkonen sidled into fourth so at the end of that session it was once again Ferrari and McLaren at the top, Massa leading Hamilton, Alonso and Raikkonen.
There were a few late efforts, the Toyotas and Renaults getting themselves out of the danger zone and the Hondas scraped through but Coulthard was apparently let down again by gearbox gremlins. Sato led the ones to drop out in 17th, then came the Toro Rossos of Liuzzi and Speed, Sutil, who spun at the end, Coulthard and Albers.
The times were cleared and the second session got under way and the Toyotas led the pack out. Trulli was an early leader, 1:32.853, then Webber took over, then Heidfeld put in a solid 1:32.233. Hamilton clocked fastest sectors all round, 1:31.732, and teammate Alonso slotted into third behind Heidfeld.
Kubica took fourth and the Ferraris were the last to take hot laps. Massa lit up purple sectors in one and two on the timing board to post 1:31.359 and Raikkonen settled for third. There was time for another run but the top six -- Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Alonso and Kubica -- decided they were safe to stay in the pits.
The Hondas and Renaults were in danger of being dropped and everyone bar the top six were out trying to improve. Trulli, Webber, Rosberg and Fisichella squeezed into the top 10 but once again Honda lost out. Wurz led the list of those dropped in 11th, Kovalainen 12th, Davidson a respectable 13th, Schumacher 14th and Barrichello and Button 15th and 16th.
Alonso was first out for the last 15 minute session and the fuel burning phase got under way. Hamilton led in the early stages, followed by Massa and Heidfeld -- there was a slight concern about Hamilton's engine which appeared to be showing an occasional haze of blue smoke at the rear of the car. Heidfeld was in quite early and went out on hard tyres, then a few others also pitted.
Heidfeld couldn't better Hamilton's earlier time but Massa was flying round and Hamilton was right on his pace, if not a little faster. Massa clocked 1:33.090 and Hamilton just missed out by a few hundredths. Raikkonen and Alonso were behind their teammates in third and fourth respectively, so was the fight for pole going to be between Massa and Hamilton?
There was enough time for another run and it appeared that Ferrari and McLaren were putting their youngsters in the firing line while Raikkonen and Alonso looked to be on heavier fuel loads. Everyone went back out and Massa was quick on a flyer with Hamilton in his wake, and Heidfeld was also on a hot lap.
Massa clocked 1:32.652 and Hamilton couldn't quite match the Brazilian, a couple of tenths off. Again, Raikkonen and Alonso slotted into third and fourth -- what strategies will play out in the race? "It's very good to be here again and scoring the 100th pole position for Bridgestone is definitely very nice for me," said Massa.
"The car is competitive. Today we have shown we have a very quick car, even in qualifying when we know everybody has the same fuel. Yesterday we showed very strong pace on long runs, too. For sure the track is not very easy because it is always a little bit dirty, especially at the beginning of the race, but I think we have shown we have a competitive car. Hopefully, we can put things together."
Hamilton was happy enough. "I think I lost a little bit of time in turn one, but the rest of the lap seemed to go quite well," he commented. "Turn 13 was little bit hectic and I think the wind here is always changing and coming across in different ways, so you always have a tail wind or a cross wind. It's quite tough to put the car on the limit and anticipate what's going to happen, but still I'm very happy to get second for the team and I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow.
Raikkonen felt he didn't get a clear run. "On my first try in third qualifying (Fisichella) was in front of me through turn one, and then I had big traffic on my second run, so it wasn't the best," he said. "But looking back I think it's OK because I wasn't certain I'd be in the top three. We'll see how the race goes. We have a good race car but need to improve a little bit in qualifying."
The BMWs did their usual best-of-the-rest solid job in fifth and sixth, Heidfeld ahead, and Fisichella boosted Renault a little with seventh. Webber was in the top 10 for the third consecutive time, eighth, while Trulli was ninth and Rosberg 10th. A superb front row start for rookie Hamilton, who really is proving his worth: with him and Massa side by side it could be a volatile start!
Massa did a confident job for his fifth career pole and second consecutive pole this season, making up for some of the Malaysia disappointment, but can the Ferraris get off the line better than the McLarens this time? Final top ten classification: Massa, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Alonso, Heidfeld, Kubica, Fisichella, Webber, Trulli, Rosberg.