Sunday race preview - Massa could yet play key title role 21 Oct 2007
Good old Felipe Massa! For the second year in succession he gave his adoring countrymen just what they wanted as he planted his Ferrari on pole position for his home Grand Prix on Saturday with a lap of 1m 11.931s.
Massa was very satisfied with his first run, and though his second was faster admitted that hed made a small mistake. That was relatively easy to do in conditions that, most drivers reported, featured less grip than there had been in final practice.
Kimi Raikkonen thought he might have done a little better than the 1m 12.322s that left him third in the second F2007, but having to go around Lewis Hamilton as the latter left the pits cost him a little bit of momentum. Like Massa, however, he is content that his Ferrari will use its tyres in more benign fashion than the McLaren in a race he must win if he is to have any chance of the title.
At McLaren, Lewis Hamilton came very close to the pole, but admitted to being slightly conservative on the final lap to avoid risking what he had already gained over the first part of the lap. There was initially some suggestion that Ferrari might protest that he had impeded Raikkonen as he left the pits - Hamilton admitted the Finn was closer than he initially thought but did get out of the way - but once that was out of the way he was very happy to start the most important race of his life from the front row after lapping in 1m 12.082s.
Fernando Alonsos 1m 12.356s best left him fourth, rueing some set-up changes which didnt work out how hed hoped. That took away some of his confidence in the MP4-22s handling.
Red Bulls progress continued in nterlagos, as Mark Webber took the teams best qualifying position of the year, fifth, with a lap of 1m 12.928s. The Australian was more than happy with that, and as an added boost David Coulthard pushed his RB3 into the top 10 with a lap of 1m 13.272s, which left him ninth.
t was unusual to BMW Sauber beaten for the best of the rest slot, but the fact that Nick Heidfeld said he was extremely happy with his sixth fastest lap of 1m 13.081s suggests he is carrying a decent fuel load. His penultimate lap wasnt bad and the last one was simply great. He felt he was lucky to make Q3, however, after a big slide and a near spin in Turn Six during Q2 left him perilously close to the edge. He also admitted that right up to the end he was worried they had gone the wrong way on set-up, but it all came good in the end. Team mate Robert Kubica was seventh on 1m 13.129s, and said that having Alonso in front of him on his final lap meant he had to go slightly off line and picked up some dirt on his tyres. n the last corner he was faster but locked a front wheel under braking, slid wide and lost crucial time.
Toyota have looked quite strong all weekend and Jarno Trulli planted the spare TF107 in eighth place overall with 1m 13.195s after rejecting his intended race car. He was much happier as a result, whereas team mate Ralf Schumacher went backwards compared to the previous day and was only 15th on 1m 13.315s for what may be his final Grand Prix. The frustrating thing for him was that his TF107 did not have any specific problems
Nico Rosberg thanked his Williams engineers for the job they did transforming his FW29 from the mornings free practice session, but said he was surprised to make it through to Q3 and to take 10th overall with a lap of 1m 13.477s. He wasnt that happy with the balance, and admitted to a small error too without which he might just have pipped Coulthard. New team mate Kazuki Nakajima reported a tough time getting into 19th place with 1m 14.417s. He too put his hand up to some mistakes, and reported that his FW29 felt very different to what it had been in the morning thanks to the changing track conditions.
Retirement rumours continue to float around Rubens Barrichello, but he looked hooked up in qualifying as he took his Honda RA107 to 11th place on 1m 12.932s. He was relieved to have a strong run in front of his countrymen, but disappointed to miss out on Q3. Team mate Jenson Button struggled to 16th fastest time on 1m 13.469s, blaming consistent lack of grip.
Twelfth and 17th positions, courtesy of Giancarlo Fisichella (1m 12.968s) and Heikki Kovalainen (1m 14.078s) were not at all what the doctor ordered for Renault. Fisichella reported that he was right on the limit, struggling for grip, and missed Q3 by a small margin. Likewise, Kovalainen missed Q2 by a tiny amount, but said he made a mistake going too deep into Turn 12 and locking the front tyres as a result. Glum looks all round.
Toro Rosso again line up in respectable positions, with Sebastian Vettel 13th on 1m 13.058s and Tonio Liuzzi 14th on 1m 13.251s. The former was happier with his car after the team played around with tyre pressures, while the latters time was from his first run after understeer and graining cost him too much in the first sector to register improvement on the second.
Super Aguri had Takuma Sato 18th on 1m 14.098s and Anthony Davidson 20th on 1m 14.596s. Both slid around as they struggled for grip, and the latter also hit some traffic.
Adrian Sutils qualifying at Spyker was hampered by a fuel pressure problem, which he had already encountered in morning practice. t left him stranded out on the circuit after he had recorded 1m 15.217s. That was good enough for 21st, with team mate Sakon Yamamoto close behind on this occasion with 1m 15.487s for 22nd.
To a man, the drivers believe that this afternoons race, which is due to be run in similar hot conditions, will be all about maintaining tyre efficiency, and things are so well poised all the way down the grid that making serious predictions is harder than ever. But for sure the championship fight is going to be a humdinger.