Malaysian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Felipe Massa took pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on a hot and sticky Saturday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur. It was a perfect lap from the Ferrari driver, who had been overshadowed in Melbourne by Kimi Raikkonen. This time he rose to the occasion to see off the McLaren of Fernando Alonso by three-tenths of a second. It was a fascinating fight in the final minutes of the session as the McLarens and Ferraris went head-to-head. In those highly-charged moments it was Raikkonen who first set the mark but within a matter of seconds Alonso had beaten his time and then Massa came through and beat the pair of them.
Massa talked about not getting a clear lap until the final session and Alonso made it clear that the McLarens were perhaps not as good as they seemed.
"We have to be realistic," he said. "On the long runs our pace is not as good as the Ferraris. They are very constant but I think that we will be closer than we were in Melbourne."
But how much of this was down to the fuel load? In the Q1 and Q2 sessions the McLarens were faster, with Fernando Alonso setting the fastest lap of all in the Q2 session at 1m34.057s, four-tenths ahead of Massa. Nether had much fuel in the car. As we have seen, notably with the Toyotyas, there is a difference between being quick in the race and quick in qualifying and once again it will be consistency that will win races.
Nonetheless, McLaren looked a lot stronger after a relatively disappointing showing in the race in Melbourne, albeit one that ended with second and third places. That was fine but Raikkonen was gone and Massa spent his afternoon stuck in traffic and so did not achieve what he might otherwise have achieved.
But let us also not forget that this is all about fuel strategy as well. Lewis Hamilton was fourth but he was six-tenths off the pace of the men ahead of him. Up to that point he had been right with Alonso. This suggested that the youngster was probably carrying more fuel than Alonso and the others. Splitting the strategic options makes a lot of sense for the team and so it may be that we will see Hamilton moving to the front in the race while the others go into the pits earlier. That is a confident move from a team that is going into the second race with a new driver.
What was clear was that McLaren and Ferrari wree well clear of the rest of the field with a half-second gap from Hamilton to Nick Heidfeld's BMW. Behind him was Nico Rosberg, looking good for Williams, with Robert Kubica next, having gone for his last lap a little earlier than the opposition. The top 10 was completed by Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher with the Toyotas again looking very good in qualifying trim and Mark Webber's Red Bull.
The good news was that when it came down to fuel loads no-one is quite sure who is running what for Sunday and so there is much to look forward to.
The big news that had the French reporters jabbering loudly was the failure of Renault to get either car into the top 10 run-off. The cars never looked very strong and in Q2 they ended up 11th and 12th, just ahead of David Coulthard's Red Bull-Renault and the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato. Also out was Jenson Button and Tonio Liuzzi, who had done a good job to get his Toro Rosso-Ferrari through the Q3 session.
There were other disasters as well, notably in the Q1 session, when Rubens Barrichello and Alexander Wurz both failed to make it through. The Austrian had a gearbox problem which made it impossible for him to set a representative time while Rubens just struggled with the pace of his Honda. Also in trouble in Q1 was Anthony Davidson who compolained of being held up at a vital moment in the Q1 session. Also out were Scott Speed in the second Toro Rosso and the two Spykers.