In Formula One’s maiden venture into night racing, it was Ferrari’s Felipe Massa who took the pole position at around 11pm local time in Singapore. The Brazilian did well to fend off the McLarens and once again, Kimi Raikkonen was some distance off the pole pace. However, Raikkonen does appear to have improved a little, and Robert Kubica climbed his way into fourth. Heikki Kovalainen couldn’t better his fifth place, although he ran well in the first two sessions.
The first session saw drama in the Force India garage as Giancarlo Fisichella’s car was still up on its jacks as the mechanics toiled away under the skin mending the damage from an earlier incident. Luckily for the Italian, Fisichella got out on track, but was out after three corners, nudging the barrier, again. So pending any further issues, Fisichella start at the back of the grid. Team mate Adrian Sutil didn’t do all that well either, qualifying in nineteenth and 1.4s down on eighteenth placed Rubens Barrichello. Also seeing the chequered flag too early was Sebastien Bourdais, who when compared to his race-winning team mate Sebastian Vettel, isn’t looking too sharp at the moment.
Nelson Piquet Jr. was the other driver to have been knocked out early, but Renault would see even more bad luck in Q2. The first session went well for most and all the concerns over shadows, lighting and glare were quickly forgotten about as the organisers did a good job at eliminating almost all. One problem that does need further investigation is the pitlane entrance though, as Rubens Barrichello had trouble getting in while following another car.
As mentioned, Renault’s Piquet problems would be compounded when Fernando Alonso stopped on track just moments into the second session. Alonso had been running very well all weekend and looked very good for a top-five position, in his own words, “perhaps second”. It turns out that the R28 suffered some kind of fuel supply issue, which meant the engine died and the Spaniard coasted off the track, jumped out of the car and held his head in his hands with bitter disappointment.
McLaren also started to show signs of pressure in Q2, with a minor problem with Kovalainen’s rear-right tyre in the pitlane. Although the Finn was hindered for a couple of seconds, the smoking brakes became a concern as the temperatures rocketed with a lack of fresh air being fed into the cooling ducts.
Lewis Hamilton also had a few moments, running wide and jiggling the MP4-23 around a fair amount. Hamilton’s final attempt left him in provisional eighth, and with an improving Timo Glock and Kazuki Nakajima, he was left in tenth. Luckily for Lewis, and it really was luck, nobody else improved.
Jarno Trulli continued his disastrous weekend and was knocked out in eleventh, the Toyota driver being joined by both Red Bulls, Jenson Button’s Honda and of course, the disconsolate Fernando Alonso.
The all important session started in earnest with only Heikki Kovalainen delaying his exit until a minute or so into the ten-minute running. Both Williams got themselves in the third stage of qualifying, this being a first for young Japanese driver Nakajima. Typically for Q3, nothing really happened until about three minutes were left on the clock and then the drivers got the hammer down and started lapping at the maximum.
It was clear from the start that the pole would be between Hamilton and Massa, and after a last-gasp improvement by the Brazilian, Hamilton couldn’t respond. Nick Heidfeld got himself into sixth, just a tenth down on Kovalainen, and Sebastian Vettel kept true to his engineer’s word and qualified in seventh for Scuderia Toro Rosso. Timo Glock and Nico Rosberg finished in eighth and ninth respectively.
This is the third street circuit pole position for Felipe Massa, the Ferrari driver having conquered qualifying at Monaco and Valencia previously. And with Massa’s pace from the front of the grid already known, he must be very confident ahead of tomorrow’s race.
However, Hamilton will be desperate to extend his championship lead, the gap having closed up to just one point following the Belgian and Italian Grands Prix. Kimi Raikkonen is also looking a little improved and reasonably relaxed in third, and with both BMWs generally running better in the race than in qualifying, we should be in for a great race.
Let’s just hope Singapore provides better racing than it’s similarly-aged street circuit sister, Valencia.