Felipe Massa threw down the gauntlet to Lewis Hamilton in the fight for the world championship as he roared to a dominant pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix last night. The Brazilian charged around the street circuit in his Ferrari to set a stunning time of 1.44.801 and beat Hamilton by six tenths of a second.
The first night race in Formula One tonight is well set, with the main two championship protagonists on the front row, with whoever comes out on top in the 61-lap race leading the title race with three races to go. Hamilton leads by one point, but Massa's commanding form in qualifying means it will take something special from the Briton to prevent his rival taking the series lead. "The car was perfect, so nice to drive smoothly, and then I managed to do a perfect lap, so that always helps when you have a good car," said Massa. "I did not make a single mistake, it was a great achievement."
Hamilton, who had suffered a trouble-filled session, had briefly usurped Massa on his final run as his McLaren went around in 1.45.465 - a lap that was full of tyre lock-ups and desperate driving by the Briton as he attempted to squeeze every tenth from the car. It was enough for him to leapfrog Massa's Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, but Massa kept his cool as he claimed the 14th pole position of his career.
While Hamilton will not be pleased to be starting behind Massa, it could have been a lot worse. He had a major scare in the second part of qualifying when he only just made it through by the skin of his teeth. On his first lap he ran wide at the first corner and went over the run-off area, while his second lap was compromised after he was baulked by a Red Bull. But he was still quick enough by seven thousandths of a second to make it through at the expense of the Toyota of Jarno Trulli.
Raikkonen's championship credentials are all but over, but last year's champion could be consoled by his best qualifying effort since the British Grand Prix in July as he lines up third on the grid today. Robert Kubica's BMW Sauber starts fourth and he will have to hope for problems for Massa and Hamilton if his floundering championship bid is to be prolonged. Hamilton's teammate Heikki Kovalainen was fifth, ahead of the BMW of Nick Heidfeld, while the Italian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel maintained his fine form as he qualified seventh in his Toro Rosso.
Timo Glock's Toyota will start eighth, while the Williams-Toyotas of Nico Rosberg and Kazuki Nakajima enjoyed their best qualifying display of late as they completed the top 10. Jenson Button was an impressive 12th in his Honda, while Fernando Alonso will have to start 15th after mechanical problems sidelined his Renault in the second part of qualifying. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org