It was the final act in a closely fought duel for pole position between McLaren and Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen heads Lewis Hamilton on the second row.
If Ferrari were expected to dominate at Barcelona with the aggressive new revisions to its car, McLaren ran riot in the first three practice sessions.
But would that be borne out in qualifying – and would Lewis Hamilton continue to demonstrate the slight edge over Fernando Alonso he had in practice?
Scott Speed ran into trouble early in the session with his Ferrari engine losing power as he changed down gears. He aborted his effort and headed for the pits.
As usual the big hitters hung fire to begin with and then used the harder tyres when they did come out.
The slower cars (Spyker, Super Aguri, Honda) used softer rubber and several of the midfield teams – including Renault – hedged their bets. Their cars came out early, but on the harder compounds to see if they could get away with it.
Giancarlo Fisichella also ran into problems and brought his Renault into the pits.
Lewis Hamilton was the first of the front runners to post a time with a 1’21.120s on harder tyres. A quartet of drivers took turns to take second behind him – first Nick Heidfeld, then Kimi Raikkonen.
Christijan Albers had a substantial off on his lap at Campsa, but he kept the Spyker out of the barriers.
Ralf Schumacher was in the bottom six when he made a final bid to set a competitive lap time. He took 16th by less than five hundredths of a second – enough to demote team mate Jarno Trulli to 17th.
Sure enough Trulli leapfrogged him before the flag and dropped Schumacher out of the session at the last moment.
17. Ralf Schumacher – 1’22.666
18. Alexander Wurz – 1’22.769
19. Mark Webber – 1’23.398
20. Adrian Sutil – 1’23.811
21. Christijan Albers – 1’23.990
22. Scott Speed – no time
Most teams except for the very quickest would send their drivers out for two runs as every thousandth would count in the ultra-tight midfield.
Anthony Davidson went off on his first lap at the Renault corner (turn three) but like Albers he only spoilt his tyres and not the car. It got worse for Super Aguri as Takuma Sato parked up at Banc Sabadell just one minute later.
Hamilton was again fastest to begin with having got down to a 1’20.713s. Kimi Raikkonen next around has just 0.03s slower, but Felipe Massa took to the front with a 1’20.792.
With less than four minutes remaining Sato, both Hondas, Alonso, Davidson and Vitantonio Liuzzi were all outside the top ten. But Alonso’s 1’20.797 – good for fourth – dropped Nico Rosberg in the danger zone as well.
Liuzzi’s car was also suffering technical problems as his team mate’s had, and he stayed in the pits and remained 16th.
Davidson consigned himself to defeat with another spin on his lap, this time at Campsa. The last-gasp laps were largely inconclusive as none of the bottom six drivers were able to jump into the top ten.
11. Nico Rosberg – 1’21.968
12. Rubens Barrichello – 1’22.097
13. Tauma Sato – 1’22.115
14. Jenson Button – 1’22.120
15. Anthony Davidson – no time
16. Vitantonio Liuzzi – no time
The final session would be contested by the Ferraris, McLarens, BMWs, Renaults, David Coulthard’s Red Bull and Jarno Trulli’s Toyota. Both the latter had reached the final part despite their respective team mates not getting through the first part.
Hamilton led the cars out of the pits for the final session with a genuine chance of taking his first pole position. He made a point of keeping Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari tucked up behind him as the two ‘raced’ much as Alonso and Michael Schumacher had at Magny-Cours last year.
After seven minutes of ‘fuel burn’ the drivers pitted to take soft tyres – except the BMWs, who used hard tyres to begin with. Hamilton got out only fractionally ahead of Raikkonen’s Ferrari.
But all of that was blown away by Alonso who scorched around at 1’21.661 to a roar of delight from the crowd – such a margin that could only be explained by a lighter race fuel load.
The top four all improved on their last attempts – but Hamilton was still six tenths slower than Raikkonen. It was Massa who surprised with a fantastic lap at 1’21.421 – 0.03s quicker than Alonso’s last effort to dash the hopes of the home fans.
A similarly great lap was produced by Trulli to take sixth between the BMWs of Kubica and Heidfeld. Heikki Kovalainen was eighth ahead of Coulthard and Fisichella.
1. Felipe Massa – 1’21.421
2. Fernando Alonso – 1’21.451
3. Kimi Raikkonen – 1’21.723
4. Lewis Hamilton – 1’21.785
5. Robert Kubica – 1’22.253
6. Jarno Trulli – 1’22.324
7. Nick Heidfeld – 1’22.389
8. Heikki Kovalainen – 1’22.568
9. David Coulthard – 1’22.749
10. Giancarlo Fisichella – 1’22.881