VALENCIA // Felipe Massa will start from pole position around the new Valencia street circuit for today's European Grand Prix. Normal service was resumed in the closing 10-minute blast that is Q3 after Formula Ones minnows had threatened a major surprise in the first two sessions as Sebastian Vettel and Jarno Trulli shone.
But Massa took the honours with a lap of one minute 38.989 seconds to edge the championship leader Lewis Hamilton into second by 0.210secs, with BMW Saubers Robert Kubica back on the pace with third. After the brilliant sunshine and searing heat of the previous two days, qualifying was run under leaden skies, but with the temperature still at 27°C. For Brazilian Massa, eight points behind Hamilton in the drivers' standings, it was his fourth pole of the season for Ferrari, but first since Monaco at the end of May.
The McLaren driver Hamilton is likely to be happy with second as he had struggled on occasions around the 5.440km track which runs through Valencia's marina and post. As for Kubica, he has not started as high as third since victory in Canada in June when he started from the front row behind Hamilton. Behind the leading trio came the world champion Kimi Raikkonen in his Ferrari outqualified by Massa for the eighth time in 12 races and followed by the fellow Finn Heikki Kovalainen in his McLaren.
Vettel, at least, managed a career-high sixth for Toro Rosso, with Trulli seventh, Nick Heidfeld eighth in his BMW Sauber, and Nico Rosberg ninth in his Williams. To complete a stunning day for Toro Rosso, Sebastien Bourdais made it into the top 10 for the first time in his debut F1 season. Kazuki Nakajima will start at a season-high 11th in his Williams, and although likely to be happy with that, there will also be a degree of sadness at missing out on a top-10 place by just 11 thousandths of a second.
Unfortunately for home hero Fernando Alonso, all the goodwill in the world from his army of fans around the track could not propel the Renault driver into the top 10 and he will start from 12th. Behind the Spaniard came Timo Glock for Toyota, Mark Webber in his Red Bull and the second Renault of Nelson Piquet. It proved a miserable qualifying session for Jenson Button and David Coulthard as the two Britons will start 16th and 17th in their Honda and Red Bull respectively.
Buttons optimism following Fridays practice when he set the third quickest time clearly proved unfounded, underlying the work Honda still have to do to catch up to the frontrunners. His teammate Rubens Barrichello, who has struggled with the set-up of his car all weekend, starts at a season-low 19th, splitting the Force India duo of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil. Massa said: "You always want to be top, and to start from pole here for the first time is very nice. The track is not easy; it's slippery."
* PA Sport