Saturday, August 23, 2008

First Valencia pole belongs to Massa

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Felipe Massa made history on Saturday when he became the very first F1 driver to take pole position at the new Valencia street circuit.

The Brazilian continued his good run of form when he clocked a 1:38.989 during Q3 to take pole position away from Lewis Hamilton.

The McLaren driver posted a 1:39.199 to fall 0.210s short of Massa's time while Robert Kubica was third quickest for BMW.

Kimi Raikkonen was the only other driver to get within half a second of Massa's P1 time while fifth place on the grid goes to Heikki Kovalainen.

Qualifying Report
The temperatures at Valencia's new dockside circuit were unusually low as the first ever qualifying session got underway. The ambient temperature was just 26C and the track at 30C with the potential for slight showers to come in from the south-east and the grey skies making teams very attentive to their weather radars.

Nelson Piquet set a slow benchmark P1 time of 1:40.044, hitting a seagull in the process. Jarno Trulli, who'd had successive engine problems in the morning practice and managed just two laps, was next to set P1 at 1:39.792, while team-mate Timo Glock lowered it to 1:39.178. Robert Kubica reduced it to 1:38.935 in his BMW.

Felipe Massa was just 6th on his first lap, but Championship rival Lewis Hamilton took provisional P1 with a 1:38.464. Kimi Raikkonen was only just faster than Massa and the Ferrari drivers went on to set second laps to improve their times, though only marginally.

Sebastien Bourdais demonstrated the consistent pace of the Toro Rossos this weekend with P2 on his first hot lap. Fernando Alonso entertained his passionate home fans with P2 before Nico Rosberg took it off him.

As the session progressed the times improved considerably but with four laps left the danger positions were: 12.Massa, 13.Coulthard, 14.Webber, 15.Nakajima, 16.Piquet, 17.Heidfeld, 18.Fisichella, 19.Sutil, 20.Barrichello

Massa went out and grabbed a decisive P1 with a 1:38.176, though team-mate Raikkonen could only manage 8th place. Nick Heidfeld was held up by Timo Glock's Toyota and tried to overtake him, lost control, went straight on at a turn and cut a corner. He still managed to post a P9 time, but as Kovalainen found out at the French GP when he impeded Mark Webber, (who also qualified for the next session despite the hold-up), he is likely to face a five-place grid penalty tomorrow.

Vettel then stunned the pundits with P1, Kubica grabbed P4, Piquet elevated himself to P13 on his third run, Nakajima leapt forward to P10 and Jarno Trulli seized P1 in the final seconds.

As the dust settled, out went:
16. Button

Jenson Button was clearly disappointed not to make it into Q2 having been put on the slower tyre for his final run, though Rubens Barrichello had been consistently slow.

Qualifying 2
There were light rain drops on Kimi Raikkonen's roll hoop camera as the Ferrari took to the track first in Session 2. He duly set P1 at 1:38.276, Robert Kubica reduced it to 1:38.050 and Sebastian Vettel showed that Toro Rosso meant business when he dipped into the 1:37s at 1:37.842.

Lewis Hamilton could only go P2, which he lost to Jarno Trulli's Toyota as the Roman set two purple sectors on his way to P2.

McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen set the P5 time ahead of the two Ferraris which had now been demoted to P6 and P7 - Massa being the slower of the two.

Going into the last three minutes the danger positions were: 7.Massa, 8.Rosberg, 9.Bourdais, 10.Nakajima, 11.Alonso, 12.Glock, 13.Heidfeld, 14.Piquet, 15.Webber

Hamilton was in third place, but such was the improvement in times in the final runs of Session 1 that the McLaren team were taking no chances. In the end 1st to 15th place was covered by just 0.8 of a second, so it was a sensible move.

As the cars finished their final runs Kovalainen stayed in P5, Massa jumped up to P2. Raikkonen slipped to P7, Bourdais stayed P9, Rosberg jumped to P9, Hamilton stayed P4, Alonso couldn't improve and finished P12 while Heidfeld jumpd up to P3.

So out went:

The great disappointment was that home boy Fernando Alonso failed to get his car into Q3, while the great joy was that both Toro Rossos had made it into the Top 10.

Qualifying 3
The big question going into Q3 was - could the Toro Rossos and Jarno Trulli's Toyota upset the Ferrari/McLaren domination of the front two rows? After the previous two sessions it looked possible.

Jarno Trulli set a benchmark pole time of 1:40.309 which Vettel reduced to 1:40.142. Lewis Hamilton took P1 from the German, but only just, his lap included a mistake going into the penultimate corner that sent him way offline. His 1:40.040 was soon eclipsed by Kimi Raikkonen and then by 0.6 of a second by Felipe Massa with a stellar 1:39.371.

Going into the final runs it was Massa, Raikkonen, Kubica, Hamilton and Vettel in the top five places.

Hamilton took another set of the softer tyres for his second run and there was no mistake this time as he grabbed P1 with a 1:39.199. Raikkonen couldn't beat it, but a final burst from Massa saw him take an impressive pole with a 1:38.989, while BMW's Robert Kubica slotted ahead of Raikkonen and Kovalainen climbed into P5.

It was another great lap from Massa and the body language in the press conference showed a Felipe brimming with confidence and a totally subdued Lewis Hamilton. With Safety Cars expected on the fast street circuit the race is still wide open, and with a grid that could favour P2 over P1, the opening lap could be spectacular and packed with incident.


01 F. Massa Ferrari 1:38.989
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:39.199
03 R. Kubica BMW 1:39.392
04 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:39.488
05 H. Kovalainen McLaren 1:39.937
06 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:40.142
07 J. Trulli Toyota 1:40.309
08 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:40.631
09 N. Rosberg Williams 1:40.721
10 S. Bourdais Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:40.750
11 K. Nakajima Williams 1:38.428
12 F. Alonso Renault 1:38.435
13 T. Glock Toyota 1:38.499
14 M. Webber Red Bull 1:38.515
15 N. Piquet jr. Renault 1:38.744
16 J. Button Honda 1:38.880
17 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:39.235
18 G. Fisichella Force India F1 1:39.268
19 R. Barrichello Honda 1:39.811
20 A. Sutil Force India F1 1:39.943