Brazilian Felipe Massa sent his home city fans into delight on Saturday when he claimed pole position for Ferrari for Sunday's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix.
The 25-year-old clocked a best time of 1:10.680 to outpace nearest rival Finn Kimi Raikkonen, his teammate at Ferrari next season, in a McLaren Mercedes-Benz by six tenths of a second.
His Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher had dominated the earlier parts of the qualifying session, but failed to clock a time due to fuel pump problems.
He wound up 10th on the grid and will have his work cut out in pursuit of an unprecedented eighth drivers' world title because defending champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who holds a ten points lead, clocked the fourth best time in qualifying.
Italian Jarno Trulli in a Toyota was third fastest.
The session began in the warmest conditions of the weekend, the air temperature reaching 22 degrees Celsius and the track temperature 34. There was a decent-looking crowd with at least half of the grandstand seats taken.
Japan's Sakon Yamamoto was first out, but it was the Ferraris who were quickest into the stride with Brazilian Felipe Massa again inspired quick laps, his best of 1:10.643 taking him top of the times for the mini-session.
Schumacher was second fastest ahead of his own brother Ralf, in a Toyota, and defending champion and current title race leader Alonso in the leading Renault.
Massa's laptime was inside the pole position record for the circuit set in 2004 by fellow-Brazilian Rubens Barrichello also in a Ferrari. He clocked 1:10.646.
There was only one incident in the session and that happened early on when Portuguese Tiago Monteiro in his Spyker MF1 went off at turn eight and had to abandon his car.
The eliminated drivers at the end of the first part were American Scott Speed in his Toro Rosso, Dutchman Christijan Albers in a Spyker, Briton David Coulthard of Red Bull, Takuma Sato of Japan in a Super Aguri, his compatriot Yamamoto in the second Super Aguri and Monteiro.
Early in the second mini-session, the two Toyotas of Italian Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher were setting the pace, but they were again overhauled by the Ferraris as Schumacher, with a lap of 1:10.313, trimmed the fastest time back further.
He topped the times ahead of Massa, Alonso and Trulli for the second mini-session, but it was a bad period unexpectedly for Briton Jenson Button who was one of the eliminated men with the 14th best time of 16 in his Honda.
This meant that the Englishman joined Italian Vitantonio Liuzzi, of Toro Rosso, Dutchman Robert Doornbos of Red Bull, German Nico Rosberg of Williams, Spaniard Pedro De la Rosa, in a McLaren Mercedes-Benz, and Australian Mark Webber in the second Williams among those to fail to make the second cut.
At the start of the third session, the track temperature had dropped to 30 degrees and this, added to the heavier fuel loads carried into the session in readiness for the race, meant slower times.
All ten cars went out, but Michael Schumacher returned to the Ferrari garage without setting a time as Massa swiftly went top of the times again ahead of Raikkonen, Fisichella and Ralf Schumacher.
Ross Brawn, the Ferrari technical director, jumped off the pitwall to hurry into the Ferrari garage, but it was unclear if Schumacher had a serious problem with his car.
Both Renaults and Massa had tyre changes during the session before, with five minutes remaining, there was still no sign of a further appearance from Schumacher.
Taking advantage of his rival's problems, Alonso clocked the third best time with three minutes remaining before Schumacher, finally, abandoned hopes of clocking a laptime and climbed from his cockpit.
|Brazilian GP qualifying breakdown||Session 1||Session 2||Session 3|
|12.||de la Rosa||McLaren||M||5.||1:11.825||6||12.||1:11.658||6|