Turkish GP: Massa delights in maiden pole

Ferrari steal the front row, but Alonso remains confident about race day
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The Independent Online

After the unusual weather conditions that pertained in the Hungarian Grand Prix, Formula One got back up to temperature in sweltering conditions in Turkey that will, the world champion, Fernando Alonso, believes, ensure that tyre performance is the key to victory.

In qualifying yesterday Alonso's Michelin tyres lacked the one-lap performance to match the Bridgestones of the Ferrari drivers, Felipe Massa and Michael Schumacher, as the red cars wrapped up the front row of the grid. What the recent ban on Renault's controversial mass dampers contributed to that is anybody's guess, but the Spaniard remained optimistic regardless.

"I'm very happy, to be honest," he said. "We knew for one timed lap performance that Ferrari were too strong, but I believe more in our pace in the race. To be close behind the Ferraris, with Giancarlo Fisichella close behind me, is the best the team could expect to do. I am very optimistic."

Massa was also cheerful. As well he might have been, having taken his first pole position. The Brazilian had been quick in the first session, upstaged by his team-mate Schumacher in the second, and then pulled the rug from beneath the latter's feet in the crucial third. Even Schumacher seemed impressed, admit-ting: "Felipe must have driven a very good lap..."

In keeping with the first two qualifying sessions, the track temperature dropped again for the third (from 53C to 49C to 45C). Fisichella and Alonso set the initial pace for Renault in that session with 1min 27.878sec and 1:28.071 respectively, but soon the Ferraris were up to speed as the track temperature climbed back up to 49C.

First Massa lapped in 1:27.307 to go fastest, then Schumacher recorded 1:27.284. Right at the end, Massa popped up again with 1:26.907 to settle the issue.

"This is a fantastic mom-ent for me," he said. "The first pole is always much more important than any others. I'm really, really happy, and the team is doing a great job. I was able to put my lap together in the end, and pole is really good."

There were some who saw in Schumacher's second place on the grid a conspiracy designed to upset the strategic calculations of others, but the former champion seemed genuinely unhappy after two off-track hiccoughs.

"I ran wide, and didn't have an optimum lap," he said. "The tyres are basically good for one lap, take a certain [performance] dive, but then stay at that level. I'm on the first row, though, so I shouldn't really complain. We are very well sorted."

For a moment it looked as if Jenson Button, still on a high after his overdue success in Hungary, might be about to upstage all of them. Just before Massa secured pole Button registered the fastest time in the first sector of the tortuous Turkish track, but his Michelin-shod Honda did not have the right answers over the rest of it and his resultant lap of 1:27.790 left him only seventh in the line-up.

"I was obviously hoping for something more from qualifying today," he admitted, "although we have been struggling a little bit in the last sector here - on the long straight and the three very slow corners. That's where we have been losing out to Alonso."

Istanbul Park is universally adored by the drivers, and not just because of the challenging Turn Eight and its series of high-G left-handers. "There are a lot of corners where you can't see the apex on entry, such as Turns Three, Four and Five, which are quite technical," Schumacher enthused.

The most important corner, however, could very well be the first. "It's going to be busy, very tough," Massa said. "But it's good that we have both cars in front and we are looking for a fast and consistent pace in the race." Just like Alonso and Fisichella.

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