Both drivers alternately featured at the top of the timing screens during qualifying for the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix this weekend – even ending Q1 placed one-two – but ultimately it was Kimi Raikkonen who prevailed over countryman Heikki Kovalainen in the battle for Finnish honour ahead of Formula 1's first-ever night race.
Despite having shown so well early on, scrappy subsequent efforts would see Raikkonen and Kovalainen slip back to third and fifth positions respectively in the final reckoning, both more than eight tenths of a second adrift of the former's pole-sitting Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa.
“All things considered, this is a good result,” the defending F1 World Champion remarked of his second row starting spot afterwards. “Of course you always hope to be in front of everyone, but third place is not so bad.
“In Q1 and Q2 the car worked very well on the soft tyres, but in Q3, on the harder ones, it was not so good anymore. Today it was difficult to choose the best type of tyre for the decisive session, because the performance difference over the first lap was not so great.
“I probably suffered a bit because of the time lost this morning with a technical problem, which ended my free practice session ahead of time. The track is very demanding with many places where you really feel the bumps, and you have to maintain concentration all the time. Tomorrow I will do my best for myself and for the team.”
If Raikkonen's hopes of continuing to fight to retain his hard-won drivers' crown have been dealt a further blow with both Massa and Lewis Hamilton starting the grand prix ahead of him, the outcome for Kovalainen was almost even more disastrous, the 26-year-old only managing to haul himself up from tenth spot in the very final moments of the last session – having at one stage looked a possible bet to steal pole.
“The balance of my car was excellent,” the McLaren-Mercedes star underlined, “especially in Q1 and Q2. Obviously the option tyre didn't work as well as the prime today, though, and in Q3 on my last run I touched the wall slightly three corners from the finish which cost me some time.
“It's so close and competitive nowadays that even a minor mistake can cost me a few places on the grid, despite having a well-balanced and quick car. The aim now is to score as many points as possible for the team. With our speed and fine handling we should be in a good position in the race.”
Both Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali and McLaren team principal Ron Dennis praised their respective charges for having done a 'very good job', with the Scuderia's
technical director Luca Baldisserri summarising: “Kimi did a good job, given his set-up problems yesterday and technical issues this morning which cost him a lot of valuable track time.”