/ 7 April 2007

Massa in pole position in Malaysia

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa snatched pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix with a scorching last lap in Saturday’s qualifying. The Brazilian, with a time of one minute, 35,043 seconds, was almost three-10ths of a second quicker than double world champion Fernando Alonso’s McLaren.

Massa’s Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who won the season-opening race from pole position in Australia, will start in third place on the grid at the Sepang circuit on Sunday alongside McLaren’s British rookie Lewis Hamilton.

”I think at the end of the day the McLarens were really competitive and it makes us work even harder to have a good race tomorrow,” Massa told a news conference.

The Brazilian, who had to settle for sixth place in Australia after an engine change forced him to start at the back of the grid, said the steamy conditions made handling a challenge.

”In the morning it was 48 degrees [on the track] and in qualifying it was 50. The car was sliding quite a lot and it wasn’t easy,” he added. ”It was quite difficult to put a lap together … but the last one was a clean one.”

In a scintillating final lap of qualifying under dark and threatening skies, Raikkonen and Alonso briefly held pole before Massa seized it from them.

More competitive

Spaniard Alonso said he was delighted to claim a place on the front row in his McLaren for the second consecutive race, especially as Ferrari looked to have the edge on straight-line speed.

”I think we have to be realistic and say our pace is not as good as Ferrari,” he said. ”[But] we have improved our car from last week and … we have a much more competitive package than in Melbourne.”

Alonso also felt conditions would play a part in determining the outcome of Sunday’s race, but that he would still be pushing his car to the limit. ”It’s going to be a very, very tough race — not only for drivers, but for cars and for tyres too,” he added.

Germany’s Nick Heidfeld qualified fifth for BMW Sauber, with compatriot Nico Rosberg alongside in a Williams. Poland’s Robert Kubica will start on the fourth row for BMW Sauber with Italian Jarno Trulli next to him in a Toyota.

Champions Renault, who have won for the past two years at Sepang with Alonso in 2005 and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella last season, failed to qualify in the top 10.

Finnish rookie Heikki Kovalainen will start 11th, with teammate Fisichella 12th.

Honda’s woeful season continued with both the main team’s cars again slower than the Honda-backed Super Aguri of Japan’s Takuma Sato, who qualified 14th. Briton Jenson Button, a race winner in Hungary last year, was 15th and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello 19th.

Spyker, who had protested against rivals Toro Rosso on Thursday in a controversy over the legality of the latter team’s cars, filled the last row of the grid. — Reuters