Tomorrow offers the prospect of another battle between the Brazilian and Lewis Hamilton, who share the front row of the grid after a late surge from the Briton.
Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso share the second row of the grid.
Up front the top four were the usual suspects – Kimi Raikkonen was fastest though Fernando Alonso (second) and Felipe Massa (third) claimed all the quickest sector times. Lewis Hamilton took fourth.
But the battle to escape the last six places on the grid was the scene of the best action.
But as the drivers prepared for their final laps the four-tenths gap between the two Toyota drivers – Jarno Trulli 11th and Ralf Schumacher 17th – showed how slender the margin of survival was.
Mired in the bottom six with the Spykers and Schumacher were the two Super Aguris and Sebastian Vettel’s Toro Rosso.
Only Anthony Davidson would escape the bottom six in the dying stages with a peach of a lap, over six-tenths faster than team mate Takuma Sato, that put him eighth.
That dropped Liuzzi out of qualifying but he may have taken some satisfaction from beating Vettel by six tenths of a second.
Schumacher, who made it into the final part of qualifying on the last three occasions, complained of rear tyre lock-ups on his lap and finished 18th. But after their poor showing at the Hungaroring, both Hondas made it through.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part one
17. Vitantonio Liuzzi 1’28.798
18. Ralf Schumacher 1’28.809
19. Takuma Sato 1’28.953
20. Sebastian Vettel 1’29.408
21. Adrian Sutil 1’29.861
22. Sakon Yamamoto 1’31.479
The second part of qualifying suggested there was nothing to chose between the top four drivers. A neat lap by Fernando Alonso put him first with a 1’26.841, but fourth placed Massa was less than two tenths of a second behind, Raikkonen and Hamilton filling the gap.
It was even closer between the two BMW drivers who posted identical lap times of 1’27.253, Robert Kubica setting his first.
Further back there was another fine battle between the drivers trying to escape the bottom six. Davidson vaulted into eighth with an excellent 1’28.002 but faster laps from Giancarlo Fisichella, Nico Rosberg and Trulli dropped him to 11th.
Alexander Wurz’s tale of woe in qualifying continued, finishing 16th over six tenths slower than team mate Nico Rosberg in seventh.
The Hondas and Red Bulls were also knocked out.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part two
11. Anthony Davidson 1’28.002
12. Mark Webber 1’28.013
13. David Coulthard 1’28.100
14. Rubens Barrichello 1’28.188
15. Jenson Button 1’28.220
16. Alexander Wurz 1’28.390
After the controversy of Hungary, Raikkonen sat at the head of the queue to leave the pits ahead of Hamilton and Massa. Alonso was conspicuously kept back in the pits until the second the session got underway.
That left the top ten battle comprising the top four teams – McLaren, Ferrari, BMW and Renault – plus Trulli’s Toyota and Rosberg’s Williams.
Once the drivers began the competitive laps the battle at the front remained close. Felipe Massa’s 1’27.546 was just 0.054s quicker than Alonso in third. But Hamilton was a full four-tenths behinds.
Heidfeld moved into fifth ahead of Kubica, with Rosberg and Trulli ahead of the Renaults of Kovalainen and Fisichella.
Looking for an advantage Alonso gambled on his skill for heating tyres up quickly being able to make the harder tyres a workable option for a qualifying lap – everyone else was using softs. But the gamble failed to net him a faster lap, leaving the Spaniard fourth.
Kimi Raikkonen looked set for a quick lap until he twitched wide at the penultimate bend. That let Hamilton through to snatch pole position with a 1’27.373.
Fortunately Massa was on hand to salvage Ferrari pride – grabbing pole from Hamilton by less than five hundredths of a second.
Further back Kubica took fifth off team mate Heidfeld and Kovalainen jumped up into seventh. He once again beat his team mate, with Fisichella almost a second slower in tenth behind Rosberg and Trulli.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Felipe Massa 1’27.329
2. Lewis Hamilton 1’27.373
3. Kimi Raikkonen 1’27.546
4. Fernando Alonso 1’27.574
5. Robert Kubica 1’27.772
6. Nick Heidfeld 1’28.037
7. Heikki Kovalainen 1’28.491
8. Nico Rosberg 1’28.501
9. Jarno Trulli 1’28.740
10. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’29.322
Photos: Ferrari media, Hondaracingf1.com, BMW, Ferrari media