Felipe Massa produced arguably one of the very finest laps of his Formula 1 career to send his home fans into rapture in qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos this weekend - and turn up the heat on world championship rival Lewis Hamilton.

The Ferrari star has always had a special relationship with the Autodromo Carlos Pace in his home city of S?o Paulo, and his third successive pole there was also his sixth of 2008 and 15th in total - and it could not have come at a more pivotal time.

Needing to out-score Hamilton by seven points if he is to snatch the crown away from the 23-year-old's grasp in much the same manner as did team-mate Kimi Raikkonen this time last year, Massa was not just quick when it counted, he was untouchable - firmly stamping his authority on a session in which the Briton had seemed to hold the upper hand, and subsequently giving the lie to the latter's post-qualifying suggestion that he had been running significantly lighter on fuel in order to do so.

Ending up almost four tenths of a second clear of his nearest competitor, and with the McLaren-Mercedes ace a further tenth adrift again in fourth place, the 27-year-old has fulfilled half of his weekend's objective in securing the top spot on the starting grid. Now he intends to run away come race day too, and leave the rest in the lap of the Gods.

"It's fantastic to have taken a third consecutive pole on this track," Massa enthused afterwards, "and it's an incredible emotion to see everyone celebrating in the grandstands.

"I got a great lap on my first run in Q3 and I could have even not bothered to finish the second one, but you never know what might happen - I was the first to take the chequered flag, and I would have looked stupid if someone had improved on my time. Anyway, I know I can count on a good strategy for tomorrow.

"The car is working very well and now I'm in the best possible position for the start. I will try and win - that is my aim. I'm not thinking about the rest, because it doesn't just depend on me or even on the team. I feel calm; there is so much expectation around me, but all this attention gives me a very positive energy which I will try and exploit tomorrow."

Not once but twice in fact it looked as though it would be an all-scarlet front row, as an understeer-plagued Raikkonen popped the sister F2008 up alongside Massa on the grid - only to be subsequently pipped both times by an inspired Jarno Trulli in the Toyota. Nonetheless, the Finn fulfilled his job in seeing off the challenge of Hamilton as he lines up third, just ahead of the world championship leader and determined to keep it that way.

"It wasn't a perfect qualifying," the 29-year-old mused, "but I am satisfied with my grid position, which puts me in a good position for the race. Starting from third is better than being second on this track.

"I am very confident for the race; we have a great car, and the understeer that I suffered with today in Q3 should not be a problem tomorrow. We are well aware of what we have to do so that the team can reach its goals.

"We will try and get away in the lead and then run our race, as we did in 2007, and then we'll see where we are. Of course, we will need a bit of luck. The tyres are on the limit here in Interlagos and it will be important to manage them well; from this aspect we are in good shape."

Indeed, whilst it was an overwhelmingly positive showing from the Scuderia, all at Maranello remain fully conscious that regardless of how well they perform on race day, that alone will not be enough. Though the constructors' title beckons, drivers' glory for Massa, they know, may be a somewhat taller order.

"This is definitely a great result," affirmed team principal Stefano Domenicali, "which puts us in a good position for tomorrow's race. However, we are well aware it's the race that counts, so there is still a long way to go.

"I am very happy for Felipe, who put in very strong qualifying performance. This result, along with the incredible enthusiasm of the Brazilian crowd, will give him even more motivation for tomorrow, if indeed any more is needed.

"It will be a tough race with a further unknown hanging on the weather. Our aim is very simple - get both our cars ahead of the rest and then do the maths in both championships. It will be very tough, but we will give it our best shot."

"A great qualifying with a fantastic performance from Felipe," agreed Ferrari technical director Luca Baldisserri. "We have taken a step in the right direction, but the most important part of the job comes tomorrow - and we know how this track can produce a difficult and incident-packed race.

"On top of that, there's the threat of a sudden worsening of the weather, which would introduce another variable in terms of managing such a crucial race. Today, the F2008 showed itself to be very competitive, even in decidedly higher temperatures compared to yesterday's free practice."

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