The Brazilian will have the chance to resume his battle with Lewis Hamilton from earlier in the season as the Briton joins him on the front row.
But Fernando Alonso’s hopes of responding to Hamilton’s recent victories were thwarted by gearbox failure in the final session – he will have to start tenth or lower.
Ferrari had looked strong all weekend – until the final minutes of Saturday morning practice. Lewis Hamilton produced a rapid lap late in the session with a particularly quick middle sector.
Only Felipe Massa, less than a tenth of a second behind, looked capable of matching the McLaren.
Fernando Alonso languished in eighth having spent most of the session in the pits as the mechanics feverishly worked away on the front of the McLaren. He emerged in time to do a single quick lap.
Hamilton was first of the top drivers to take to the track and quickly replicated his 1’14.8 from morning practice – on the harder tyres.
Alonso was every bit as quick through the first sector but lost half a second in 180. His 1’15.3 was still good enough to guarantee his passage through to the second part of qualifying. Massa set a fractionally quicker time than Alonso but Raikkonen was within a few hundredths of the Briton.
The difference between relegation and survival was the two thousandths of a second that separated Rubens Barrichello, 16th, from Vitantonoio Liuzzi, 17th.
Alexander Wurz failed to get through once again, the Williams driver languishing in 18th. Takuma Sato will start from last after his ten-place penalty is applied.
It will lift Sutil from last on the grid, the German’s Spyker stopping on track at the end of the session.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part one
17. Vitantonio Liuzzi 1’16.142
18. Alexander Wurz 1’16.241
19. Takuma Sato 1’16.244
20. Anthony Davidson 1’16.366
21. Christijan Albers 1’17.826
22. Adrian Sutil 1’17.915
As the session began David Coulthard was immediately in trouble – the Red Bull suffering yet more gearbox problems.
Hamilton went quickest again, once more dipping into the 1’14.7s, with Massa and Raikkonen again a few hundredths behind. Alonso, three tenths slower, slotted in fifth behind Robert Kubica.
Both Renault set times good enough for the top ten. Jarno Trulli joined them with ninth fastest time but neither of the Hondas were able to make the cut.
Nick Heidfeld was the last car to make the cut, relegation Ralf Schumacher to eleventh,starting behind his team mate once again.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part two
11. Ralf Schumacher 1’15.534
12. Jenson Button 1’15.584
13. Rubens Barrichello 1’15.761
14. Mark Webber 1’15.806
15. Scott Speed 1’16.049
16. David Coulthard no time
Disaster struck Fernando Alonso at the start of the session when he pulled in after a single lap with apparent gearbox problems.
The drivers came in to begin their qualifying efforts with seven minutes of the session remaining, the top runners switching to soft tyres.
Raikkonen, Hamilton and Massa followed each other out and each set the fastest time one after the other. Massa took provisional pole with a 1’15.034. The BMWs took fourth and fifth ahead of Rosberg.
On the final laps neither of the Ferrari drivers were able to improve. Hamilton did – but stayed in second by seven hundredths of a second.
Kubica held on to fourth but the Renaults filled the third row, demoting Heidfeld to seventh ahead of Trulli and Rosberg. Alonso qualified tenth – but may have to start even lower if his car repairs incur a penalty.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Felipe Massa 1’15.034
2. Lewis Hamilton 1’15.104
3. Kimi Raikkonen 1’15.257
4. Robert Kubica 1’15.493
5. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’15.674
6. Heikki Kovalainen 1’15.826
7. Nick Heidfeld 1’15.900
8. Jarno Trulli 1’15.935
9. Nico Rosberg 1’16.328
10. Fernando Alonso no time