Kimi Raikkonen edged his team mate Felipe Massa by a few hundredths of a second. Fernando Alonso bounced back from a spin to take third ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton.
But perhaps more importantly, it gave the sport something to think of other than the espionage scandal.
The top four drivers were the usual suspects – although Felipe Massa had a scare as he didn’t leave the garage to set a lap time until the 11th minute of the session. His mechanics had to make last minute changes to the rear suspension – the same area that had given him trouble in Monza.
With five minutes to go Massa and Sakon Yamamoto were yet to set a time. Ahead of them the six slowest drivers were Jenson Button (0.003s slower than Sebastian Vettel), Adrian Sutil, David Coulthard, Ralf Schumacher, Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson.
When he finally did set a time Yamamoto was over a second slower than anyone else. But team mate Adrian Sutil posted a 1’48.044 good enough for 12th fastest.
The track seemed to be getting much quicker – Liuzzi, Schumacher, Coulthard, Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber jumping into the top ten.
Conspicuously failing to make the cut by a wide margin was Davidson, whose 1’48.199 left him 21st, two places behind team mate Sato. The Britain had described his car as ‘undrivable’ on Friday.
Rubens Barrichello’s final effort was half a second slower than his team mate Button had managed, and the Brazilian was also knocked out. So too was Sutil, whose fell to 12th by the end of the session, but at least getting the B specification Spyker ahead of one Super Aguri.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part one
17. Sebastian Vettel 1’47.581
18. Rubens Barrichello 1’47.954
19. Takuma Sato 1’47.980
20. Adrian Sutil 1’48.044
21. Anthony Davidson 1’48.199
22. Sakon Yamamoto 1’49.577
In the second session the top four drivers switched to the softer Bridgestone rubber which they had struggled to keep working for a whole lap in the practice sessions.
Kimi Raikkonen did the best job of unlocking their potential with a 1’45.070 lap 1.2s quicker than he managed in the first part of the session. Lewis Hamilton was quicker in the middle sector and set a 1’45.132. Massa was four-hundredths of a second behind in third, Alonso fourth.
With four minutes remaining Giancarlo Fisichella headed the bottom six, eight hundredths of a second behind Schumacher. Also under the threat of failing to make the cut were Coulthard, Button, Trulli, Alexander Wurz and Liuzzi.
The top four were the only drivers who did not return to the track for another lap before the end of the session.
Mark Webber failed to reach the start finish line in time to start his lap, but fortunately for the Red Bull driver the time he had already set was good enough for eighth place.
The only change among the bottom six was Trulli, who escaped the last half-dozen at the expense of team mate Schumacher. Wurz had to face being knocked out after trailing team mate Nico Rosberg by nine tenths of a second.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part two
11. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’46.606
12. Ralf Schumacher 1’46.618
13. David Coulthard 1’46.800
14. Jenson Button 1’46.955
15. Vitantonio Liuzzi 1’47.115
16. Alexander Wurz 1’47.394
The McLarens, Ferraris and BMWs all made it through to the final phase of qualifying again, although Robert Kubica would lose ten places on his final grid position following an engine change. Heidfeld, Trulli, Webber and Rosberg joined them.
Lewis Hamilton took up his customary position at the front of the queue but Felipe Massa got the better of him on the run towards Les Combes.
Because of the length of the lap there would be far fewer of the ‘fuel burn’ laps before the real action started. The drivers were in the pits switching to soft tyres after just six minutes.
Massa ran wide at La Source and locked his front right at the new Bus Stop chicane setting a 1’47.038. But Raikkonen was over half a second with a 1’46.553 that put him on pole. Hamilton’s 1’47.128 put him third.
Fernando Alonso, however, spun at Rivage, dragging his car out of the gravel. The team had the presence of mind to send him around for an extra lap to ensure he got the maximum fuel allowance available.
Alonso was tenth ahead of the final laps with Kubica fourth and Webber a promising fifth.
On the final set of laps the lap times tumbled again and it was Raikkonen who dipped below 1m 46s to set a 1’45.994 that gave him pole position. But team mate Massa was only 0.017s behind, and Alonso’s 1’46.091 meant he was also within a tenth of a second.
Hamilton could only manage fourth, three tenths of a second slower than Alonso.
Kubica put his BMW fifth but his engine penalty means that Nico Rosberg, who qualified sixth, will start from that position.
Heidfeld was seventh ahead of Webber and Trulli. Kovalainen was a distant tenth, suggesting the Renault team have fuelled the Finnish drivers’ car more heavily.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Kimi Raikkonen 1’45.994
2. Felipe Massa 1’46.011
3. Fernando Alonso 1’46.091
4. Lewis Hamilton 1’46.406
5. Robert Kubica 1’46.996
6. Nico Rosberg 1’47.334
7. Nick Heidfeld 1’47.409
8. Mark Webber 1’47.524
9. Jarno Trulli 1’47.798
10. Heikki Kovalainen 1’48.505
Photos: Ferrari Media | GEPA / Bildagentur Kraeling | LAT / Andrew Ferraro | Daimler Chrysler