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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Massa on pole in Valencia

Felipe Massa will start from pole in Sunday’s European Grand Prix through the streets of Valencia.

“For sure starting on pole here is very nice,” Massa said. “The track here is not very easy. The surface is slippery. I had a good lap and I was able to score the pole position. I think I have a good car for the race tomorrow which will be very difficult, but I will try to do my best.”

The Brazilian set a time of 1:38.989 in the final shootout to put his Ferrari on the front row. Points leader Lewis Hamilton will join him, slotting his McLaren in second.

“For sure, there is always a little bit of time somewhere but generally I am very happy. It is a good starting position for us for tomorrow and a great job done by the team,” Hamilton commented.

BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen round out the top five.

After some rough qualifying sessions, it was good for Kubica to get back in the top three.

“After some unlucky races the pace of the car here in Valencia is not as bad as it was before but also we have a bit of a gap to Ferrari and McLaren. Qualifying went pretty smooth,” Kubica said.

It was expected things would shake up a bit after Friday’s practice sessions, with Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button finding themselves in the top three at the end of the day yesterday.

Indeed, today the results proved too good to be true, Alonso qualifying a season-worst 12th and Button eliminated in Q1.

“It was a really disappointing qualifying today, particularly as we have been quick all weekend," Button explained. “My first run on the prime tyres was good but we simply chose the wrong tyre for my final run in Q1. I had no grip with the option and it just wasn't very competitive for us. My final run was slower than my prime run, which shouldn't happen on a circuit which is improving all the time. I'm really disappointed as we have improved the car but today we didn't make the most of that.”

But the racy Sebastian Vettel’s Friday pace wasn’t imagined, as the German put his STR sixth on the grid. Teammate Sebastien Bourdais made it a celebratory day for the Faenza-based outfit, putting the second Toro Rosso 10th as both cars made it into Q3.

“It’s been a fantastic day for us. We made some changes to the set-up overnight and they all turned out to be positive," Vettel enthused. “The team worked hard to make the most of the data. We didn’t expect to do this well here but it’s a good thing to have both cars in Q3. Now we have to keep our feet on the ground, because there are a lot of laps ahead of us tomorrow. I’m looking forward to the race when I think we have a real chance to score points.”

Bracketed by the Toro Rossos are Jarno Trulli’s Toyota, BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, and Nico Rosberg for Williams.

It had been hoped Force India’s new seamless-shift gearbox would give the team the boost it needed to get out of Q1, but the end of the first session found the backmarkers in a familiar spot: Eliminated.

Joining them were David Coulthard and the Hondas of Button and Rubens Barrichello, yet another in a string of disappointing results for the Brackley squad.

“It has been an incredibly frustrating day for us today. We were not able to find a balance on the car in practice this morning which affected our preparations for qualifying,” Barrichello said. “This afternoon I particularly struggled with rear locking which cost me a lot of time as I wasn't able to attack the lap. It's very disappointing to be starting the first race here from so far back on the grid.”

What became evident over the course of today’s qualifying sessions was just how close the times were. It wouldn’t take much of a mistake to find yourself on the outside looking in when the shootout began.

It was a lesson Alonso learned first hand as running wide in turn three bumped him from the top 10.

Kazuki Nakajima (Williams), Timo Glock (Toyota) Mark Webber (Red Bull), and Nelson Piquet (Renault) joined the hometown favorite on the sidelines after Q2.

Webber was particularly surprised to see the advantage supposed ‘B’ team STR had on the raw street circuit.

“Both Sebastians are obviously are driving very well here and they have set up their car a little differently, not massively,” Webber told ITV Sport’s Louise Goodman. “We know that they have a stronger engine – that is clear – but probably not by the amount that they are ahead of us. The engine is probably worth four-tenths or so but the rest is…we need to do a better job.”

Hamilton expects Ferrari to be difficult tomorrow.

“As he (Massa) said in sector one he destroyed everyone. They are going to be hard to beat tomorrow but we will push as hard as we can,” Hamilton said.

After his heartbreak in Hungary, Massa isn’t taking anything for granted.

“It is very nice to be here for the first time in Valencia and also after the problem we had in the last race and to be on the top,” The Brazilian said. “But for sure the race is tomorrow and we don’t know how it is going to be but it is always nice to start on pole position. We will try to do a great race.”

The action kicks off at 2pm local time Sunday.

The grid
  1. Massa, Ferrari, 1:38.989
  2. Hamilton, McLaren, 1:39.199
  3. Kubica, BMW Sauber, 1:39.392
  4. Raikkonen, Ferrari, 1:39.488
  5. Kovalainen, McLaren, 1:39.937
  6. Vettel, Toro Rosso, 1:40.142
  7. Trulli, Toyota, 1:40.309
  8. Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 1:40.631
  9. Rosberg, Williams, 1:40.721
  10. Bourdais, Toro Rosso, 1:40.750
  11. Nakajima, Williams, 1:38.428
  12. Alonso, Renault, 1:38.435
  13. Glock, Toyota, 1:38.499
  14. Webber, Red Bull, 1:38.515
  15. Piquet, Renault, 1:38.744
  16. Button, Honda, 1:38.880
  17. Coulthard, Red Bull, 1:39.235
  18. Fisichella, Force India, 1:39.268
  19. Barrichello, Honda, 1:39.811
  20. Sutil, Force India, 1:39.943
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