Felipe Massa will start the Spanish Grand Prix from pole position after dashing the hopes of the large crowd with a last-ditch effort to set fastest time at the Circuit de Catalunya.

The massed ranks of Fernando Alonso fans had thought that their man was a shoo-in for top spot after a stunning first flying effort in the McLaren, but Massa responded with his final effort after the chequered flag and, when Alonso came up 0.03secs short, the Brazilian completed a hat-trick of fastest qualifying laps.

Alonso appeared to have laid down a marker even before the low-fuel laps got underway, posting a 1min 22.846secs effort on used tyres and a fuel load close to that with which he will start Sunday's race. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton got closest, four-tenths adrift, but the two Ferraris failed to keep step with the Spaniard.

Nick Heidfeld then moved into P2 after BMW again opted to fit the harder Bridgestone rubber to its two cars for their first flying effort, but the session was always going to be about McLaren and Ferrari. Hamilton quickly reasserted Woking's presence, lowering the benchmark to 1min 22.231secs, but was followed across the line by Kimi Raikkonen, who knocked half a tenth from the target. Massa at this point could manage 'only' second spot as he slotted in behind the Finn - before Alonso appeared to have pushed pole beyond anyone's reach.

The crowd favourite sent up a roar from the grandstands as he stopped the clocks at 1min 21.661secs, fully four-tenths under Raikkonen's mark and, with three minutes remaining in the 15-minute session, the order was McLaren, Ferrari, Ferrari, McLaren. Behind them, Heidfeld appeared to have the upper hand in fifth, ahead of Jarno Trulli, Robert Kubica, Giancarlo Fisichella, David Coulthard and Heikki Kovalainen.

Hamilton was again the first to attempt another flying lap, but came up short of his team-mate's mark despite being urged on by his side of the McLaren garage. Raikkonen was next across the line, but he too failed to topple Alonso's initial mark, although he split the two Silver Arrows.

The chequered flag had already been shown as Massa upped the pace on his final effort, eliminating the oversteering moments that plagued his Q1 run. The crowd held its breath as the Brazilian entered the new final corner sequence, and the disappointment was evident as he crossed the line 0.24secs under Alonso's benchmark. The only hope remained with the Spaniard still being on track, but a slightly wide line through the new chicane probably cost the local hero a shot as he came up 0.03secs shy.

It was all change behind the leading quartet too, with Kubica and Heidfeld swapping places either side of Trulli and the two Renaults doing likewise, Kovalainen and Fisichella pivoting around Coulthard, who was nevertheless pleased to have made the top ten and preserved Red Bull's record of having at least one car in the final shootout.

Where DC succeeded, however, team-mate Mark Webber did not. Having made the final session at each of the previous three races, the Australian was stymied by a hydraulic failure that prevented him from taking a second shot at escaping Q3. He was joined on the sidelines at the first hurdle by Ralf Schumacher and Alex Wurz - both of whom would have hoped to have made the cut - as well as the two Spykers and Scott Speed's Toro Rosso. The American failed to even complete one timed lap after succumbing to an electronic problem that cut the power every time he downshifted.

Of the six drivers that fell foul of the drop zone in second qualifying, Speed's team-mate Tonio Liuzzi was to suffer a similar problem that prevented him from setting a time, while Anthony Davidson twice went off and did not register a flying lap. The Super Aguri was fortunate not to make contact with anything solid, but the Briton was left with no chance to build on eighth place in final practice.

Davidson's team-mate, Takuma Sato, at least managed to get one flying lap under his belt, but then stopped out on track as he attempted to make a second run. The Japanese driver still managed to best former BAR team-mate Jenson Button, however, after the Briton failed to rise above 14th spot following a moment across the kerbs on his second effort.

It was not a good session for Honda, with Rubens Barrichello also missing the cut, despite finding time on his second run, while Nico Rosberg filled the final spot in the bottom six after his Williams failed to find the handful of tenths that would have taken him into the top ten.

 

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