Life might not stay that way in the next 24 hours, but for now Felipe Massa is home and dry after pocketing pole position for Sunday's Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix. Pole winner Felipe Massa celebrates. Photo by xpb.cc. The Sao ...
Life might not stay that way in the next 24 hours, but for now Felipe Massa is home and dry after pocketing pole position for Sunday's Formula One Brazilian Grand Prix.
The Sao Paolo native, buoyed -- almost literally -- by the cheers of his countrymen, followed through on a psych maneuver on chief driving title rival Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes by sticking his Ferrari atop time sheets from the first of qualifying three sessions with a stunning time. Ultimately, Hamilton could only crowd to within a half-second.
Sunday's race will decide the 2008 FIA World Drivers' Championship at the 2.7-mile Interlagos course outside Sao Paolo between the two. Hamilton leads Massa by seven points. The Englishman can win the title by finishing fifth or better if Massa wins; Hamilton needs at least seventh if Massa is second; Massa loses altogether if he places third or lower. In the same situation here a year ago, seven-point leader Hamilton lost the title to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
Massa dropped lap times to under 1 minute, 12 seconds in the first qualifying session with a 1:11.858. Despite McLaren driver Heikki Kovalainen topping second qualifying with a 1:11.742, when Massa said he made a slight mistake, the mental work was done in favor of the Brazilian, who is at home, surrounded by friends, family and compatriots, at the site of the start of his racing career, the Interlagos go-kart track.
Massa claimed his third successive pole for this race, with a time of 1:12.368, and would be vying for a third successive victory but for his moving aside last year for Raikkonen, whose victory gave the Finn the 2007 driving title ahead of Hamilton and then McLaren-teammate Fernando Alonso, who shared runner-up status.
"It's so nice to be here and making a third pole position in a row in Brazil in front of these fantastic people, (who) are 100 percent emotion(al) about motor racing," Massa said. "It's great for us to come here and see so many people (who) love what we're doing. It's difficult to describe with a single word."
Massa opted for fantastic as a start to his description before turning to less-emotional aspects of qualifying.
"Friday and this morning we show that our car is very competitive around here," he said. "I will try to do my best tomorrow to win the race, and that's the most important thing."
Epic effort of qualifying went to Toyota's Jarno Trulli, who pulled himself out of a sickbed to participate. The Italian put a Toyota on the front row of a grid for the first time since Japan 2005. Trulli, whose teammate Timo Glock joined him in the top 10, threw down a 1:12.737.
"I think for the first time I was not going to make it for Friday because Thursday I was feeling really bad," said a pale, drawn and haggard-looking Trulli. "But in this case, after this result, I really have to thank the whole team for the job from the mechanics and the engineers up to the doctor because they really did manage to get me everything I needed to be quick. Even before coming here in Brazil I knew that this was one of those tracks -- technical, difficult -- where I could have been very strong, and my car could have been very competitive. So I've been preparing for this grand prix I've been waiting for and now here I am. I really played my cards during the qualifying, saving tires and getting ready for the Q3 and in the end put in a pretty good lap.
"I'm really, really happy."
Raikkonen followed in 1:12.825 ahead of Hamilton with 1:12.830.
"I think I did more or less what I'm supposed to do," Raikkonen said. "I'm in a good starting place. I actually prefer to be in third than second. It's been here a pretty good place to start. Hopefully, we'll get a good start and I think we have the car to pull away like we did last year and that would be perfect for the team and that's what we're aiming for."
"Congratulations to Felipe for achieving pole position in front of his home crowd," Hamilton said. "He did a great job today. But tomorrow, I will be focusing on my own race. It will be a tough afternoon but I'm comfortable with the fuel strategy we chose. The guys in front are probably on a different strategy. But we're in good position to finish in the same place as we are today, and that's got to be our aim. We don't need to do anything spectacular."
Hamilton's intimation that he is heavily fueled and content to run a long stint from the off is strategy that might bag a driving title but possibly not a team gong.
Kovalainen (1:12.917) shares the third row with Renault's Alonso (1:12.967). Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel (1:13.082) and Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber (1:13.297) share the fourth row. Toro Rosso's other half, Sebastien Bourdais (1:14.105), takes the fifth row with Glock (1:14.230).
Spaniard Alonso topped practice time sheets Friday afternoon and again Saturday morning by pulling himself from well down the list to the top in the final moment. He had no such magic for qualifying and starts behind Hamilton, next to Kovalainen.
"We thought it would be close and competitive this afternoon, and we were not mistaken," Alonso said. "We knew that it would be difficult to try and catch the Ferraris and the McLarens, and so I think we have done our maximum this afternoon by qualifying in sixth place."
Form holds that Ferraris and McLarens would qualify in the top 10, and Toyota putting both cars there mark sustained improvement for the factory team. But Scuderia Toro Rosso can celebrate outright at placing both STR3s among the big boys. The German Vettel has carried the team past sister outfit Red Bull Racing this season and qualifying confirms the contribution of his teammate Bourdais.
"Naturally, you want to end the season on a high note and this result is super, to be in Q3 again, for the sixth time," said a Bourdais angling for a decision from team boss Gerhard Berger about the Frenchman's race seat. "Things have been getting better over the past few races, and this performance today confirms that. My lap was probably the best Q3 lap I've done this year, so I'm very happy."
The second half of the field puts Renault's Nelsinho Piquet next to Red Bull's Mark Webber on the sixth row, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica next to Red Bull's David Coulthard on the seventh, Honda's Rubens Barrichello, F1's most experienced driver, next to Williams rookie Kazuki Nakajima on the eighth, Honda's Jenson Button next to Williams's Nico Rosberg on the ninth, and Giancarlo Fisichella out qualifying his Force India teammate Adrian Sutil on the 10th.
Piquet has stepped up in form in the final third of the season and with solid improvements to the R28 had reasonable expectation of reaching the third qualifying session.
"The car was working well, I was comfortable, and I pushed hard, but that wasn't enough," Piquet said.
Red Bull positioning disappointed Webber but salvaged a moral victory for Coulthard, who squeaked through to second qualifying in the final minutes for the last race of his F1 career.
"This was a disappointing day for us," Webber said. "I did the best I could, but it's simple: If you're not fast enough, you don't go through."
Said Coulthard, "I'm not really happy with that as my last F1 qualifying session. We went reasonably well here last year and got into the top 10, so we came here thinking that might be possible again. But in the end we didn't manage to find enough grip in the middle sector."
Struggle for grip kept Kubica from final qualifying for a second successive race. Both BMW Saubers were late to appear in the sessions but Heidfeld sorted his F1.08 more easily than his teammate.
"Starting from so far behind will make the race difficult for me," Kubica said.
Also possibly starting his final Brazilian Grand Prix, Paulista Barrichello, whose future with Honda remains uncertain, out qualified his English teammate yet again.
"I'm pleased that we were able to make it into the second qualifying session here in Interlagos today," Barrichello said. "We had a perfect lap on my second run in Q1 with the option tires working really well. Unfortunately, we couldn't get the same grip level in Q2 and were really struggling with understeer."
Williams had a dismal qualifying that emphasized a streaky season for the English privateer using Toyota engines. Nakajima cited varying track temperatures for undermining his effort. Rosberg could not get to grips with the softer, option tire compounds.
Fisichella said he struggled through Turns 8 and 10, where he might have found two-tenths but only one place. "We'll look to the strategy to improve tomorrow and try to be flexible to be ready for whatever comes."
What's expected to come is rain, which could scramble everything. Trulli said his Toyota needs a dry surface and warmer temperatures. Massa, whose best results have been gained from pole, needs a fast getaway, a team that will perform his pit stops smoothly, and a crowd to carry him home. Hamilton, of course, needs better luck than last year's.