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 São 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.