Sebastian Vettel on pole as Massa leads title rivals (2008 Italian GP qualifying)

Vettel (right) will start from pole position with team mate Bourdais fourth

Vettel (right) will start from pole position with team mate Bourdais fourth

Sebastian Vettel starred in a thrilling wet-weather qualifying session at Monza to score his and Toro Rosso’s first ever pole position.

But the championship contenders had mixed fortunes with Felipe Massa starting sixth, Robert Kubica 11th, Kimi Raikkonen 14th and Lewis Hamilton 15th. It promises a thrilling race tomorrow.

Part one

With track conditions very wet all the drivers streamed out onto the circuit on the extreme wet-weather tyres. Apart from pit stops halfway through the session – where most drivers took on more fuel and many took a fresh set of extreme wets – all the drivers stayed on track through qualifying.

Apart from a brief spin by Nick Heidfeld at Parabolica, incidents were limited to occasional moments of chicane-cutting and few drivers even seemed to get in each others’ way.

And the expectations that some drivers would struggle and we’d see some unfamiliar names getting knocked out proved untrue – although Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso cut it close. Nelson Piquet Jnr failed to make it past Q1, and not for the first time this year.

But Giancarlo Fisichella brought Force India great cheer by getting into Q2 for the first time.

Bottom five drivers’ times for part one

16. Rubens Barrichello 1’36.510
17. Nelson Piquet Jnr 1’36.630
18. Kazuki Nakajima 1’36.653
19. Jenson Button 1’37.006
20. Adrian Sutil 1’37.417

Part two

As the second part of qualifying began further rain began to fall and McLaren and Lewis Hamilton made a critical mistake. As everyone else hurried onto the track to set times as the circuit dried, Hamilton went out on wets rather than extreme wets, and lost precious time returning to the pits for extreme wet tyres. Was the decision spurred by him using two sets of extremes in Q1, unlike Kovalainen?

While that happened virtually everyone else was setting what would turn out to be their best times of the session on extreme wet tyres. Hamilton found himself outside the top ten, along with both Ferraris, David Coulthard and Giancarlo Fisichella.

A late, vital lap by Massa secured him the precious tenth place, knocking Robert Kubica back, and securing his passage into Q3. It will also have done much to assuage criticism of his driving in the wet at Silverstone.

But further back Raikkonen and Hamilton could not improve and, in a shock twist, were knocked out. Both, along with Kubica, spun their cars at Ascari trying to make the top ten.

Sebastian Vettel ended Q2 with the quickest time ahead of Kovalainen.

Bottom five drivers’ times for part two

11. Robert Kubica 1’36.697
12. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’36.698
13. David Coulthard 1’37.284
14. Kimi Raikkonen 1’37.522
15. Lewis Hamilton 1’39.265

Part three

The rain increased throughout the final part of qualifying but there were some enormously impressive late laps from drivers even as the conditions got worse.

Kovalainen headed the times sheets to begin with but he couldn’t hold back the inspired Vettel, who put his Toro Rosso top with a 1’37.555. Kovalainen improved on the final lap but was 0.08s off beating Vettel.

It was a brilliant day for the Red Bull teams as Mark Webber took third with one of the last laps of the session, ahead of Sebastien Bourdais. Another last-lap wonder was Massa, who managed to improve to take sixth.

Nico Rosberg gave Williams their best qualifying position of the year with an excellent fifth.

Top ten drivers’ times for part three

1. Sebastian Vettel 1’37.555
2. Heikki Kovalainen 1’1’37.631
3. Mark Webber 1’38.117
4. Sebastien Bourdais 1’38.445
5. Nico Rosberg 1’38.767
6. Felipe Massa 1’38.894
7. Jarno Trulli 1’39.152
8. Fernando Alonso 1’39.751
9. Timo Glock 1’39.767
10. Nick Heidfeld 1’39.906

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