|Felipe Massa (C) on pole is flanked by Lewis Hamilton (2nd) and Robert Kubica (3rd)|
Ferrari's Felipe Massa has won the pole position for the inaugural Grand Prix of Valencia, Spain street race in his Ferrari, his 4th pole of the year. On a track slightly damp with moisture hanging in the air, Lewis Hamilton in his McLaren came closest to Massa's fast time but came up just short. Robert Kubica put his BMW 3rd on the grid with Kimi Raikkonen in the other Ferrari rounding out row 2.
Massa's first sector time was crushing and that effort is what made the difference for Massa over Hamilton.
"We have a great car," Massa said. "We have shown that in so many races this year. It was a good lap and I think we have a good car for the race. The first sector was just fantastic. I made some small mistakes in sector two and then I had a good sector three. The track was getting better all the time. It was so green because of the big rain shower yesterday. This morning was difficult."
"Felipe's first sector on his last flying lap destroyed everyone," said a bit dejected Hamilton. "I didn't think my first lap was great but the last lap was pretty good. I was happy with it. It is a good starting position for tomorrow.
Robert Kubica, who was happy to be back in contention after a couple of poor races with his 3rd starting spot.
"The pace of the car is not as bad as before," he said. But we are still missing a bit to Ferrari and McLaren."
Fourth place on the grid went to World Champion Kimi Raikkonen, who was nearly half a second off the pace of Massa. Unless he is running a heavier fuel load, this is now a normal situation and must be a source of worry for Raikkonen that he appears to no longer have the sheer speed of the top tier of drivers, especially since he said he was going for the pole this weekend and could not perform.
Fifth place was Lewis Hamilton's teammate Heikki Kovalainen, but he was nearly eight-tenths down on Hamilton, and he too may be running with a heavier fuel load than his teammate.
The biggest surprise throughout qualifying was the pace of the Scuderia Toro Rosso team, with Sebastian Vettel being fastest of all in the Q2 session, and he stayed good enough for 6th on the final F1 grid. One might say it was all due to the talented Vettel but Sebastien Bourdais was also there, lining up 10th on the grid.
Team-by-team summary: Saturday, Valencia
His Budapest engine glitch aside, Felipe Massa is riding the crest of form as he took pole at Valencia from championship leader Lewis Hamilton -- who admitted the Brazilian "destroyed" all comers in the first sector of the lap. Kimi Raikkonen's recent struggle continues in Spain, with poor practice and early qualifying pace, and an ultimate Q3 lap half a second off Massa's pole. "Fourth place is not what I was looking for," the Finn confirmed.
McLaren's has not looked the quickest car all weekend at Valencia so far, and Hamilton indeed failed to match Massa's pace throughout the three qualifying segments. A couple of tenths off the Briton's pace is the occupant of the sister MP4-23, Heikki Kovalainen, so his much slower run in Q3 suggests McLaren is covering the bases by filling the Finn's car with more fuel. "Our strategy should help us to gain positions during the race," said Kovalainen, fifth.
Following the Budapest slump, Robert Kubica resurrected BMW-Sauber's fortunes on Saturday by going quickest in morning practice and then qualifying a highly-competitive third. "There is still a small gap to Ferrari and McLaren," said the Pole, even though his qualifying was clearly and consistently ahead of one rival from each of the two top teams mentioned. Teammate Nick Heidfeld was quicker than Kubica in Q2, before slumping to just P8 in Q3, indicating a likely heavier fuel load. He was also scathing of Timo Glock and Toyota, but - despite a stewards investigation - his countryman escaped penalty for a blocking incident in Q1. "Our team informs us on the radio how many seconds behind us a fast car is, and when we have to let somebody overtake. Apparently this isn't the case in every team," said Heidfeld, who had displayed his middle-finger to Glock on track.
Without any doubt, Valencia is proving the highlight of Toro Rosso's F1 career so far, and Sebastian Vettel has been outstanding; P1 on Friday morning, the fastest man of all in the low-fuel initial qualifying phases, and ultimately an excellent P6 on the grid. "We didn't expect to do this well here," beamed the German, who finally beats his previous best qualifying effort of seventh, when he made his debut in Kubica's BMW-Sauber shoes at Indy last year. Teammate Sebastien Bourdais' P10, his first taste of Q3, completes STR's best qualifying achievement since the team's debut in 2006.
After a difficult Friday, Saturday was a fascinating day for Jarno Trulli, who sat out the entire morning with a problem. Qualifying, therefore, was his first chance to try an all-new car setup -- and it worked to perfection. Along with Vettel, the Italian was the star of qualifying, showing incredible pace in Q1 and Q2 and ultimately securing P7. Timo Glock, suffering with a cold this weekend, lines up P13.
The FW30s had a mighty morning with the second and fourth fastest times, but Kazuki Nakajima couldn't make the Q3 cut, even though P11 is a personal best for the Japanese. Nico Rosberg did get through Q2, however, and he lines up P9 on the grid. "It's been a few races since we managed to get into the top ten, so this is a good result for us," he said.
Disappointed home hero Fernando Alonso looked good on Friday but he didn't feature strongly on day two at Valencia, as both he and teammate Nelson Piquet failed to make the Q3 cut.
Behind both of the so-called 'junior' Toro Rosso cars, which are propelled by more powerful Ferrari engines, Mark Webber and David Coulthard are very much amid the bottom half of the grid. "We don't seem to have the pace we had a few races ago, which is quite frustrating," said Webber.
Rubens Barrichello is having a shocker; disastrously slow in every session, and only saved the ignominy of being dead last on the grid by Force India's Adrian Sutil. Jenson Button also dropped out with the Q1 stragglers, but he was at least a full second faster than his teammate. "We simply chose the wrong tire for my final run," said the Briton, who had looked quick on Friday.
Giancarlo Fisichella easily outqualified the struggling Barrichello, but Sutil did not, and the German is last. Force India, however - running the new seamless shift gearbox at Valencia - celebrated the fact that the Fisichella's deficit to the fastest qualifying lap time was only 1.3sec.