Saturday, 27 September 2008

Singapore Grand Prix Qualifying: Massa lights up first ever night time qualifying

Felipe Massa gave his world title chances a massive boost with a superb lap in the dying minutes of qualifying to take pole position ahead of his main rival Lewis Hamilton. On a track which looks exceptionally tight and narrow, subsequently meaning passing opportunities will be very limited, pole position could prove to be all important.

Formula One's first ever night time qualifying session got underway with perfect weather conditions. None of the rain that has been predicted for the weekend has thus far fallen while the cars are out on track, meaning that if it happens in the race it could well be something of a lottery with all the drivers out on full dry set-ups. The first section of qualifying saw its first incident when veteran Giancarlo Fisichella understeered wide into the crash barriers, removing his front wing in the process. This effectively ended his session as he was unable to even register a time. Sutil and Barrichello both unsurprisingly dropped out. Sebastien Bourdais was the next to drop out, and he was clearly struggling with the set-up of his STR car as at times it looked more like he was tarmac rallying rather than driving a grand prix car. Nelson Piquet was unable to build on his excellent showing this morning as he too bit the dust early on.

Barely a couple of minutes into the second section there was heartbreak for Renault and Fernando Alonso, as his car ground to a halt out on the circuit with a mechanical failure before he was even able to set a lap time. It was a cruel blow to Alonso as he had looked exceptionally quick all weekend long. A weekend that had looked so promising for Renault now looks likely to be a real struggle with Alonso and Piquet starting alongside each other in 15th and 16th place.

The rest of the drama of the session revolved around the trials and tribulations of Lewis Hamilton. After missing out on final qualifying in Monza after a tactical blunder, it looked as though history may have been about to repeat itself. McLaren took things pretty casual and came out late to set their first flying lap. This was almost their downfall, as Hamilton made a mistake in turn 1 and had to abort the lap. He then had to come out and throw caution to the wind for the final three minutes of the session with 2 laps worth of fuel in his tank. He again looked scrappy and failed to impress on his way to P8 on the time sheet. There were plenty of other drivers out there on hot laps though, so he was by no means safe. Glock and Nakajima both jumped ahead of Hamilton, pushing him right down to the brink of elimination. Webber, Trulli, Coulthard and Button were all out too, and seemed to have the potential pace to ruin McLaren's afternoon. However, they all seemed to have poor laps and Hamilton was luckily able to survive the cut.

The final session saw Hamilton back to his usual self, and after the first round of hot laps the usual suspects were up near the top of the time sheet. Heikki Kovalainen was out on the super-soft option tyre, and he was struggling badly down in 10th. The option tyre appears to be overheating and graining badly in the heat and humidity here, the harder tyre definitely looks the preferred choice. Vettel was again looking excellent up in fourth place, with Raikkonen, Hamilton and Massa ahead of him.

The final laps saw Raikkonen out first ahead of Hamilton, then Massa. Raikkonen was going quicker than he had earlier on, but he was still struggling to match his team mate's first flying lap. He crossed the line in second place. Just seconds later Hamilton crossed the line to go into provisional pole position. He didn't have a great first couple of sectors, but put in a blistering final sector to heap the pressure on Massa. The Brazilian though was not fazed in the slightest, and he set fastest split times in all three sectors to comfortably take pole by over half a second. It was an absolutely stunning lap from Massa, which seemed to come out of nowhere. It is very unusual for pole position to be clinched by such a large margin; is Massa on a lighter, more aggresive fuel strategy, or was it just the perfect lap? We'll have to wait until the first stints of tomorrow's race to find out...

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Massa
2. Hamilton
3. Raikkonen
4. Kubica
5. Kovalainen
6. Heidfeld
7. Vettel
8. Glock
9. Rosberg
10. Nakajima
11. Trulli
12. Button
13. Webber
14. Coulthard
15. Alonso
16. Piquet
17. Bourdais
18. Barrichello
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella

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