Felipe Massa thrilled the home crowd by taking pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix for the third year in a row.
But this year it means even more as he faced down Lewis Hamilton for the world championship. Hamilton starts fourth behind Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen.
Despite early concerns about the weather qualifying was run in near-perfect conditions. The track had warmed up considerably since the final practice session, with the mercury in the high 30s and nudging towards 40C.
Nelson Piquet Jnr was first out on track and took two attempts to set a 1’13.208 – but home rival Rubens Barrichello was quicker with a 1’13.030.
Felipe Massa wasted no time on joining the circuit as the crowd voiced its approval. Lewis Hamilton, following a minute or so behind him, got a less welcoming reception…
Massa’s first lap was slightly slower than Heikki Kovalainen’s, then Jarno Trulli displaced the two of them. Hamilton then beat all three to go fastest with a 1’12.213.
Massa did a second lap but didn’t improve but on his third lap he lowered his mark to a 1’12.389. That kept in fourth ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
Timo Glock spun at the S do Senna early in the session which caused a problem for Fernando Alonso who was following not far behind.
Just before the final flurry of laps Massa strapped on a new set of medium compound tyres and set the fastest time of the weekend so far – 1’11.830. Raikkonen followed him with s 1’12.083 to go second, piling the pressure on Hamilton.
The bottom 14 drivers all returned to the track for an extra lap to avoid being caught in the last five. Among them was Robert Kubica, 15th, and on the cusp of being eliminated. He moved up to seventh, but David Coulthard in his final F1 appearance could only manage 12th. He slipped down the order as faster drivers set times but ended up 15th – one place away from being knocked out.
Also escaping elimination was another old hand in what could be his final race – Rubens Barrichello.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part one
16. Kazuki Nakajima 1’12.800
17. Jenson Button 1’12.810
18. Nico Rosberg 1’13.002
19. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’13.426
20. Adrian Sutil 1’13.508
The Ferraris quickly resumed their places at the top of the times sheets in Q2, with Massa setting a 1’11.875 and Raikkonen a 1’11.970. But Hamilton hit back, setting his fastest time of the weekend so far with a 1’11.856.
Kovalainen was poised to beat the lot of them after setting fastest times in the first two sectors. But a poor final sector left him fifth and needing a second run to guarantee a place in Q3. That run was quick enough to put him top with a 1’11.768.
With just 0.4s covering the top ten almost every driver chose to do another lap, except for Massa. Hamilton went out for one last lap but, with not enough drivers improving to cause him a problem, he returned to the pits to preserve his engine life.
For the second race in a row Kubica struggled and his team mate Nick Heidfeld was the sole BMW in Q3 – a reversal of the situation earlier in the season.
Also out were the veterans – Coulthard and Barrichello – plus Webber making it both Red Bulls out and both Toro Rossos in once more. Nelson Piquet Jnr also failed to reach the final ten meaning only one Brazilian made it to the end of qualifying. But, as far as the crowd were concerned, it was the most important one…
Bottom five drivers’ times for part two
11. Nelson Piquet Jnr 1’12.137
12. Mark Webber 1’12.289
13. Robert Kubica 1’12.300
14. David Coulthard 1’12.717
15. Rubens Barrichello 1’13.139
Both McLaren and Ferraris made it into Q3, accompanied by the Toro Rossos, Toyotas, Alonso and Heidfeld.
Massa quickly went to the top of the times with a 1’12.453, only six tenths of a second slower than his time from Q2. Raikkonen moved into second, but Hamilton’s first lap was just plain scruffy and left him only sixth. The final sector of his out-lap was the quickest by anyone in Q3 up to that point, and it looked a lot like Hamilton had simply pushed his soft compound tyres too hard. Jarno Trulli squeezed between the Ferraris, and Kovalainen and Vettel both beat Hamilton.
Massa found a fractional improvement over his first lap time and set a 1’12.368 – four tenths of a second faster than anyone else.
The big surprise was Jarno Trulli, who pulled out one of his trademark perfect qualifying laps to take second and prevent a Ferrari one-two. Hamilton took fourth with Kovalainen behind him – and Alonso sixth.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Felipe Massa 1’12.368
2. Jarno Trulli 1’12.737
3. Kimi Raikkonen 1’12.825
4. Lewis Hamilton 1’12.830
5. Heikki Kovalainen 1’12.917
6. Fernando Alonso 1’12.967
7. Sebastian Vettel 1’13.082
8. Nick Heidfeld 1’13.297
9. Sebastien Bourdais 1’14.106
10. Timo Glock 1’14.230