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Massa soaks up the pressure to take Brazil pole

NEWS STORY
01/11/2008

Ahead of today's all-important qualifying session, the air temperature is 22 degrees C, while the track temperature is 39 degrees. The overcast skies have given way to sunshine, however, the forecasters are predicting rain tomorrow, and lots of it.

While Felipe Massa set the pace in yesterday's opening session, it has been Fernando Alonso who has dug deep and pulled off last gasp efforts to top the timesheets yesterday afternoon and this morning. Over the course of the three sessions however, it's tight, with the top twelve covered by just 0.484s.

While there is lots of talk about Hamilton needing pole, it must be remembered that, as in 2007, the title is his to lose. The man who needs pole, the man who needs to win, is his title rival, Felipe Massa.

The tyre options this weekend are medium and soft, and while we have seen little of the soft tyre this weekend, it was certainly the rubber to be on in the closing stages of this morning's session. Then again, let's not forget that we are expecting rain tomorrow.

While the media focuses on the battle for the driver's title, let's not forget not only the Constructors' Championship, but plenty of other outstanding battles, such as the fight for third in the Drivers' Championship but also the fight for fifth. Then there's the battle for sixth in the Constructors' Championship between Toro Rosso, Red Bull and, to a lesser extent, Williams. Furthermore, with several teams still to complete their line-ups for next season, this is the last chance for drivers like Bourdais and Piquet to impress.

With two minutes to go, it's party time for the (mostly) partisan crowd, the air-horns are blasted, the flags waved. No matter what happens in 2009, it is highly unlikely that Abu Dhabi will be able to come anywhere close to such an atmosphere.

A local hero is first out, however, it's not Massa but Piquet, one of several drivers who still needs to sort out his seat for next year. As has the third Brazilian here today, Rubens Barrichello.

Piquet posts the first time of the afternoon, crossing the line at 13.208. Moments later, Glock goes quickest with a 13.023 as the TV director concentrates on Barrichello, who is on the soft compound. The Honda driver goes second with a 13.030.

Massa is the first of the big guns to go out, much to the crowd's delight. However, the McLaren duo isn't far behind.

Trulli and Kovalainen are both on hot laps, and it is the Italian who goes quickest, crossing the line at 12.226. Kovalainen goes second, splitting the Toyotas with a 12.366.

A 12.574 sees Massa go third, but all eyes are on Hamilton, who takes the top spot with a 12.213, despite not having gone quickest in any of the sectors. Raikkonen, who could only manage 13.115 on his first lap, post 12.557 next time around to go fourth. Trulli goes second as Massa improves to leapfrog his Ferrari teammate.

Vettel splits the Ferraris with a 12.390 to go fifth, as Alonso begins his first flying lap. At the second split he's 0.311s up on Hamilton however, he can only manage tenth (12.614) as Glock spins costing both Renault drivers vital time. Elsewhere, replay show Rosberg in a very twitchy Williams.

Piquet goes third, while Heidfeld can only manage eleventh. BMW teammate Kubica is still down in fourteenth.

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