Saturday, 1 November 2008

Brazilian Grand Prix Qualifying: Massa On Pole For Title Showdown

Felipe Massa will start the Brazilian Grand Prix, the most important race of his life, from pole position after a brilliant performance at his beloved Interlagos circuit. He knows that to stand a realistic chance of winning the Driver's Championship he needs to win the race tomorrow, and he has given himself the best possible chance. Lewis Hamilton will have to defend his seven point lead from 4th place, and possibly on a different strategy to the Ferraris. Toyota's Jarno Trulli put in an incredible performance to take a surprise second place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.

The first of the three mini-sessions saw few problems or dramas for the major players. Massa, Raikkonen and Hamilton filled the top three spots and were all very close. Alonso showed the pace of the Renault with fourth. Kovalainen didn't get the most out of the McLaren and only managed 8th place, but was easily through regardless. At the wrong end of the grid the Force Indias struggled as expected and propped up the time sheets. Both Williams cars looked extremely poor despite previously looking reasonably strong all weekend long, and both went out along with Button who saw his team mate Barrichello just squeeze through into the final session.

The second session was a little more interesting than the first. For the first ten minutes or so everything went like clockwork. Raikkonen, Massa and Hamilton all looked supremely quick and held the top three places. Then all of a sudden some more un-fancied drivers started putting up some stunning lap times. We shouldn't be too surprised to see Kovalainen so quick given the machinery under him, but Vettel produced a great lap out of nowhere, as did Glock. Suddenly the top two teams felt a little bit of heat and were forced to send their drivers out again just in case.

In the end both Ferraris made it through, but Raikkonen in particular was flying a little too close to the wind for comfort with P6. Ferrari need a big performance from him in terms of the two titles, and he will also want a good showing to reclaim third place in the title race. His chances of that third place were aided somewhat by the poor performance of Robert Kubica who could only manage 12th fastest. It's a shame to see Kubica losing his way a little at the end of such a great season for him. His 2008 season looks to be ending with a bit of a whimper.

The third session was what everyone was really waiting for though, and it didn't disappoint. Massa was the first of the major players out on track for the opening salvoes of Q3 and he put in a fantastic first lap. 1:12.4 is a tidy lap in any conditions, but to do it with race fuel is very impressive. Raikkonen couldn't match his team mate, and nor could any one else. Hamilton had a very untidy first lap. He perhaps went out a little to fast on his outlap and over-cooked his tyres a tad. He almost lost the back end a couple of times throughout the lap, but kept it on the black stuff to set something of a disappointing lap.

The second and final hotlaps saw Massa again on great form. He managed to go marginally faster second time around, and ended up significantly faster than anyone else out there. Although we know Massa loves this race-track, we have to think that Massa is lighter on fuel considering he ended up almost half a second faster than his team mate Kimi. Hamilton improved significantly, but it wasn't enough to quite trouble the Ferraris. He was just five thousandths of a second behind Raikkonen, and it looked as though he would be sitting behind an all Ferrari front row. Both McLarens seemed to struggle in the middle sector and were significantly slower there than all the others drivers around them, with Kovalainen finishing just behind Hamilton.

When Alonso failed to match either the McLarens or Ferraris it looked for all the world as though it would be two Ferraris followed by two McLarens on the grid. Then out of nowhere Jarno Trulli put in an amazing lap to split the Ferraris and take second place! Trulli is known as a qualifying specialist, but I don't think even the most hardened Trulli fan would have expected this result. He must surely be VERY light on fuel, but Trulli's presence puts an interesting and unexpected element into the mix for tomorrow's title decider.

The other potential wild-card factor is the position of Fernando Alonso sitting in sixth, right behind his bitter rival Hamilton. Alonso has made no secret of the fact that he would dearly love to see Hamilton and his former employers fail tomorrow, and Hamilton certainly will not relish having the Spaniard right on his gearbox going into the first two turns.

If everyone finishes in the same place they start the race, Hamilton will be champion. However, he would dearly love to have been starting up on the front row. Both McLaren drivers have hinted that perhaps they are on a different strategy to those infront of him after seeing the pace of particularly Massa and Trulli. Could strategy be the deciding factor in the World Title? There is also the issue of tyre degradation. The option tyres Bridgestone have brought have been graining up badly in practice, and tyre management could well be a key factor. Of course, the other major factor may be the weather. Rain is still forecast for tomorrow, and when the rain falls anything can happen.

Provisional Starting Grid

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


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