...while McLaren and Toyota outpace the Renaults
Felipe Massa is on pole position for his home Grand Prix, but qualifying was no cause for celebration for Ferrari, as Michael Schumacher will start only 10th on the grid in his final race - one he must win if he is to stand any chance of leaving with an eighth world title.
All morning, and all through the first two sessions of qualifying, Ferrari seemed a shoe-in for the front row of the grid, as Schumacher and Massa traded fastest times. But when the cars streamed out for the final session, Schumachers stammered and banged its way round its sole lap with a fuel feed problem, before heading to the pits where it remained.
I was lucky to get a tow from Nick (Heidfeld), Massa said after his lap of 1m 10.680s, but in any case it was a great lap and its fantastic to be on pole at my home GP. The car is just fantastic and the tyres were working really well with sunshine. It was fantastic to see people around waving their hands, to hear them screaming. The Brazilian people are very hot about F1!
While he celebrated, however, Schumacher had a long face, surely proof that he had not really conceded his drivers title hopes at all. The fuel problem ruined his chances, and dropped him immediately to 10th place on the grid.
Between the two Ferraris there are plenty of fast cars, the one driven by his arch-rival, Fernando Alonso, in fourth place after the Spaniards best lap of 1m 11.567s for Renault. He is separated from Massa by Kimi Raikkonen, who was very pleased as his McLaren just got better and better and enabled him to lap in 1m 11.299s; and Jarno Trulli who was equally happy with the performance of his Toyota in qualifying third with 1m 11.328s. With Ralf Schumacher seventh on 1m 11.695s, ahead of the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld (1m 11.882s) and Robert Kubica (1m 12.131s), the battle for fifth place in the constructors championship is as hot as that between Renault and Ferrari for overall honours.
After Jenson Button had traction control problems and failed to get through the second session, Rubens Barrichello gave his countrymen something more to cheer by taking fifth place for Honda in 1m 11.619s, just ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault on 1m 11.629s.
It remains to be seen who was running what fuel load, but with Schumacher having to fight through to the front, there is going to be plenty of action in the upper part of the field tomorrow.
Behind the front five rows, Mark Webber will share row six with Pedro de la Rosa. The Williams driver lapped in 1m 11.650s, the McLaren pilot in 1m 11.658s. Nico Rosberg is 13th on 1m 11.679s in the other Williams, with the unhappy Button 14th on 1m 11.742s.
Robert Doornbos was 15th with 1m 12.591s but his Red Bull drops to the back because of his engine penalty, so Tonio Liuzzi will take that position after lapping his Toro Rosso in 1m 12.861s. Team mate Scott Speed will be alongside him, after a mere 0.001s separated them in the first session, the Italian getting through to Q2 at the Americans expense.
Behind them, Christijan Albers is 17th on 1m 13.138s for Spyker MF1, whose other car will share the back row with Doornbos after Tiago Monteiro spun on his first flying lap and failed to record a time. David Coulthard is 18th in his Red Bull on 1m 13.249s, then come the Super Aguris of Takuma Sato (1m 13.269s) and Sakon Yamamoto (1m 13.357s).
So, the scene is set for an epic race, with Massa torn between an understandable desire for victory on his home ground and his wish to help his team mate to retire with yet another championship crown; and Alonso needing to play a sensible game while keeping clear of any threat from Michael. It could hardly be a better script.