Massa soaks up the pressure to take Brazil pole


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.

With less than four minutes remaining, Webber, Rosberg, Fisichella, Bourdais and Sutil are all in the danger zone, with Kubica, Coulthard, Heidfeld and Nakajima far from safe.

Massa is back on track and immediately goes quickest in the first sector. He maintains the pace in the second sector, crossing the finish line at 11.830 to go quickest. The crowd erupts, cheering and punching the air in delight.

A 12.083 sees Raikkonen go second, giving Ferrari a 1-2.

Kubica (softs) is struggling, but looks likely to make it through to Q2. The Pole goes seventh (12.381) as Glock improves to fourth having gone quickest in the second sector.

Heidfeld goes eighth and Webber tenth, however, Alonso improves to fourth, which is bad news for Nakajima who is bumped into the drop zone.

At the first hurdle we lose both Williams, both Force Indias and Jenson Button. Indeed, the Honda driver has a problem, he pulls off to the side of the road.

Quickest was Massa, ahead of Raikkonen, Hamilton, Alonso, Glock, Trulli, Piquet, Kovalainen, Heidfeld and Kubica.

The lights go green to mark the start of Q2, and almost immediately the Toyotas head down the pitlane. Both are on softs.

Glock sets the benchmark with a 12.331, but almost instantly Trulli goes quicker (12.107).

Massa is another early bird, the Ferrari driver, like the Toyotas, on softs. Raikkonen (softs) on track also. The Finn clearly experiencing understeer problems.

An 11.950 sees Raikkonen go quickest, however, Massa goes quickest in the first sector, eventually crossing the line at 11.875 to take the top spot.

There's a murmur from the crowd as Hamilton begins his first flying lap, the Englishman subsequently going quickest with an 11.856. Elsewhere, his teammate goes quickest in the first sector, as Alonso goes fourth with a 12.090. A poor middle sector means that Kovalainen can only manage fourth (12.023). Trulli is now sixth, just ahead of Piquet.

Glock goes quickest in the second sector, crossing the line at 11.909 to go third, splitting the McLaren and Ferrari monopoly at the top of the timesheets.

Both BMWs on track, and both Kubica and Heidfeld are clearly struggling here. While the Pole can only manage eleventh (12.300), Heidfeld goes sixth with a 12.026. The German, who has struggled for much of the season in qualifying, finally appears to have found his form.

Kovalainen goes quickest in the first sector, and sector three, crossing the line at 11.768 to make it a McLaren 1-2.

Clearly not happy with his time, Raikkonen goes out again, as do Hamilton and Alonso. Indeed, other than Kovalainen, only Massa opts not to go out again.

A personal best in sector one from Raikkonen, likewise, Piquet, Webber and Bourdais.

Raikkonen fails to improve, while Vettel goes second with an 11.845. Bourdais and Webber look set to improve, which could be bad news for Alonso.

Bourdais goes eighth, which is bad news for Piquet, who is demoted to the drop zone along with Webber, Kubica, Coulthard and Barrichello. A massive disappointment for Red Bull, but likewise Kubica and BMW.

Quickest was Kovalainen, ahead of Vettel, Hamilton, Massa, Glock, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Bourdais, Alonso and Trulli.

So here we are, the final shoot out for the final race of 2008 and it would be a very brave man to try and predict the outcome. While Hamilton and Massa are looking good, Vettel and Glock appear to have other ideas.

Glock is first out, the German opting for the harder (medium) compound. Vettel follows.

As Glock begins his flying lap, Massa heads down the pitlane.

The German posts 14.311, as Vettel goes purple in all three sectors, crossing the line at 13.155.

Massa (softs) goes quickest in the first sector, as Hamilton begins his flying lap, having pushed very hard on his out lap, possibly too hard. Massa is quickest again in sector two, crossing the line at 12.453. Moments later, Hamilton posts 13.252 to go third.

Trulli goes second and Raikkonen third, as Kovalainen takes fourth with a 13.059.

Two and a half minutes remain and the crowd erupts as Massa takes to the track once again. All ten drivers are on track.

A slow out lap from Massa, the Brazilian not following Hamilton's example.

A better first sector from Hamilton, as Massa isn't matching his previous pace. However, a superb final sector sees the Brazilian post 12.358, while Hamilton goes second with a 12.830.

Raikkonen goes second but Alonso and Kovalainen are still on track, as is Trulli, who goes second with a 12.737. Kovalainen can only manage 12.917, which puts him fifth.

Consequently, Massa takes pole for the third successive year here, ahead of Trulli, Raikkonen, Hamilton, Kovalainen, Alonso, Vettel, Heidfeld, Bourdais and Glock.

Despite all the talk of cracking under pressure, Massa has delivered, taking pole by almost 0.4s from Trulli, but, more importantly he's ahead of his title rival, who has Raikkonen ahead of him and Fernando Alonso behind.

With the prospect of serious heavy weather tomorrow we could be in for a thriller, and don't we deserve it.

However, while the weather can add spice to a race, let's hope that we get a good clean fight and that the outcome is decided on track not in the Race Stewards office, or, far worse, the Place de la Concorde, in a couple of weeks.

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    Published: 01/11/2008
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