The grid has been decided for the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, and with the times as close as ever in the first two stages, it was Felipe Massa who took the pole position on home soil. Fellow title contender Lewis Hamilton will start the race from fourth with Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen separating the pair. The crowds cheered Massa over the line as the Ferrari driver took his third successive pole position at Interlagos. But as they say, qualifying is one thing, racing is another…
We all knew this qualifying session would be tense, but both title contenders seemed relaxed as ever ahead of Saturday’s running. Nelson Piquet Jr went out first and looked reasonably promising after some strong laptimes posted in the earlier practice sessions. However, all eyes soon diverted to Felipe Massa as he ventured out on the Interlagos tarmac to start his final qualifying procedure of the season. The first runs from the Ferrari drivers didn’t look too good though, with both pilots understeering around quite a bit. Instead it was the McLarens that looked hot as the Mercedes drivers outpaced the Scuderia.
The times were close after the first run though…
Brazil 2008: Q1 (First Run Results)
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren||1m12.213s||Q1 (First Run)|
|2.||Jarno Trulli||Toyota||1m12.226s||Q1 (First Run)|
|3.||Heikki Kovalainen||McLaren||1m12.366s||Q1 (First Run)|
|4.||Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||1m12.557s||Q1 (First Run)|
|5.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||1m12.574s||Q1 (First Run)|
The understeering Ferraris prompted ITV commentator to exclaim, “Raikkonen is understeering like a cross-channel ferry”, much to the amusement of co-commentator James Allen and those of us in the live blog.
The BMWs left it typically late as usual to leave the garage, and it was clear from the offset that Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld were struggling. Although the squad have achieved an awful lot this year, it seems as though the development of the F1.08 faltered in the latter stages of the season. Scuderia Toro Rosso though looked pretty sharp as they have done throughout 2008, and Sebastian Vettel popped in a fifth quickest time at about mid-distance in Q1.
Fernando Alonso was looking quite menacing in the much improved Renault R28, the Spaniard having gone fastest in Free Practices Two and Three. Alonso’s final effort in the first part of qualifying left him in fourth, just 0.001s shy of Lewis Hamilton. Nelson Piquet in the sister Renault also popped in a fine lap just prior to Alonso’s, placing the Brazilian in third at the time.
Honda were running well and by the time the chequered flag fell for Q1, local hero Rubens Barrichello had made it through with a 1m12.548s. Jenson Button was left stranded on the track though after his Honda RA108 stopped just prior to the pitlane entrance. The Briton was dropped out of qualifying and will start seventeenth.
The final Q1 runs upped the ante and Felipe Massa dug deep for a superb lap, going fastest and adding to the pressure already mounting on Hamilton’s shoulders. Failing to make the grade though were both Force Indias, the already mentioned Honda of Jenson Button and surprisingly both Williams.
The second stage of qualifying saw the times close right up as Lewis Hamilton attempted to fix his middle-sector issues and the Ferraris dialled out their understeery behaviour. The first set of runs looked something like this…
Brazil 2008: Q2 (First Run Results)
|1.||Lewis Hamilton||McLaren||1m11.856s||Q2 (First Run)|
|2.||Felipe Massa||Ferrari||1m11.875s||Q2 (First Run)|
|3.||Kimi Raikkonen||Ferrari||1m11.950s||Q2 (First Run)|
|4.||Heikki Kovalainen||McLaren||1m12.023s||Q2 (First Run)|
|5.||Fernando Alonso||Renault||1m12.090s||Q2 (First Run)|
|6.||Jarno Trulli||Toyota||1m12.107s||Q2 (First Run)|
|7.||Timo Glock||Toyota||1m12.331s||Q2 (First Run)|
Timo Glock then set a stunning time of 1m11.909s, placing him third at the time and displacing Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari. Robert Kubica continued to struggle and could only manage a 1m12.300s, just 0.081s faster than his Q1 time. Team mate Nick Heidfeld was running better in the sister car and was able to get through to the final shootout, but both cars don’t look particularly special on the circuit this weekend.
The final quick lap went to Heikki Kovalainen who was topping the speed traps in his MP4-23. The Finn managed a very fast 1m11.768 and pipped Lewis Hamilton by a tenth. Dropping out of Q2 after fifteen minutes of running were both Red Bulls, Nelson Piquet Jr, Robert Kubica and Rubens Barrichello.
The final ten minutes saw action from all ten drivers, even though Sebastien Bourdais left it until the last moment to set a time, heading out with just 120 seconds left on the clock. Initially, it appeared as though Massa was stuggling a little with his tyres and resorted to lapping very slowly on his outlaps to preserve the rubber as best he could. Sebastian Vettel made a good early impression, but ultimately finished in seventh, his team mate Sebastien Bourdais ending up in ninth.
The early pace had Massa as fastest and this didn’t change during the final ten minutes. A final lap time of 1m12.368s meant he was on pole by a comfortable 0.4s, but the driver in second caused quite a stir. At first it was Kimi Raikkonen who looked to be locking out the front row for the Scuderia, but at the last moment Toyota’s Jarno Trulli pulled a lap out of the bag that upset the apple cart. Trulli, a master at qualifying if not racing, managed to split the Italian cars and go second, his first front row result for quite a while.
The McLaren’s simply couldn’t respond and Lewis Hamilton will start in fourth with Heikki Kovalainen in just behind in fifth. Fernando Alonso disappointed slightly with only sixth, the Spaniard having a great run up until qualifying. However, the third row doesn’t mean he is out of contention, and as the double world champion has stated many times in the past few week, he will gladly help Massa in his hunt for the title.
So, as Felipe Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley stated, all Felipe has to do is win the race tomorrow and leave the rest in the laps of the gods. The first corner of the first lap is going to be electrifying, particularly with Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton on the same row, and with the potential Trulli-train causing consternation for those behind, I think everyone is going to be desperately trying to find a way pass the Toyota.