Ferrari's new qualifying king Felipe Massa gave himself a headstart by grabbing a second straight pole slot in Bahrain. By MARK HUGHES
Felipe Massa could not afford to let this weekend go wrong. He'd not enjoyed the media pressure he'd been under after his errors in Malaysia - and admitted as much. There was also the underlying matter of not falling into the role of Kimi Raikkonen's support at Ferrari. Here he badly needed a result. And if he was to be in charge of his destiny he needed another pole.
He duly produced the goods on Saturday afternoon. "The car felt well balanced and I was very confident," he shrugged with the air of a man who'd been expecting the result.
He'd been aided in his achievement by running a fuel load a couple of laps lighter than teammate Raikkonen, although as it turned out Felipe didn't need that help, for both Raikkonen's runs were badly compromised by traffic, first by Giancarlo Fisichella in turn one, next time by a whole gaggle in the middle of the lap.
It all left Raikkonen back in third, over 0.5 seconds adrift of Massa - more than the differing fuel loads accounted for.
Aside from the traffic, Raikkonen still was not enjoying the balance of the Ferrari on new tyres, still feeling there was too much of his hated understeer. The practice runs suggested he was quicker than Massa over a sequence of laps, but over just one of them, Massa was the man.
At McLaren there was a similar pattern. The junior guy, Lewis Hamilton, was happy with the car. His superstar team-mate, Fernando Alonso, was not. Lewis was 0.3sec adrift of Massa's pole despite running a lighter fuel load, but was nonetheless delighted with his first front-row starting position.
"Actually the lap wasn't that great. Some of my earlier ones in Q1 and Q2 were better. I lost a bit of time at turn one and it was a bit hectic at turn 13 too. The wind is always changing, which makes it tough to anticipate and put the car on the limit."
Nonetheless, he looked more comfortable in the car than Alonso, whose bugbear was brake feel. He just could not get the confidence he needed in the braking areas to really lean on the car.
He lined up fourth on the grid, a few hundredths behind Raikkonen, despite a lighter fuel load. He was, however, running three laps-worth more fuel than team-mate Hamilton so, weightcorrected, was slightly faster.
Just as at the first two races, the BMW was the third fastest car, some way behind Ferrari and McLaren but well clear of anyone else.
It seemed particularly well suited to running the lower downforce this track allows and Nick Heidfeld's beautifully clean lap was good for fifth, 0.3sec quicker and a place ahead of team-mate Robert Kubica on virtually the same fuel load. For the first time this year Heidfeld used the softer of the tyres to set his time, though he did begin a run on the hards but abandoned it.
Kubica was satisfied to have finally got through qualifying without any errors in the timing of his runs, though on the day he simply wasn't as quick as Heidfeld. Fuel weight corrected, the grid would have had the Ferraris of Massa and Raikkonen on the front row, the McLarens of Alonso and Hamilton on the second and the BMWs of Heidfeld and Kubica on the third.
The remaining qualifiers for the run-off lined up in the order of Jarno Trulli's Toyota, Mark Webber's Red Bull, Giancarlo Fisichella's Renault and Nico Rosberg's Williams. Trulli took grim satisfaction from heading this little sub-group in a car that he found difficult to balance.
The TF107 was struggling badly for straightline speed and so was running with minimal downforce compared with the cars around it. Trulli's team-mate Ralf Schumacher could get nothing from the car all weekend, feeling very uneasy with its understeer balance and not adapting well.
The Red Bull had reasonable balance and Webber duly wrung its neck. Team-mate David Coulthard suffered a gearbox failure that stranded him in Q1.
Pat Symonds rated Fisichella's lap as "excellent", while "that is our current maximum", was Fisi's comment. In the other R27 Heikki Kovalainen missed out on Q3 by a quarter of a tenth. He'd been slightly behind his team-mate throughout the weekend, though yet again had suffered a problem with his fuel pump in practice.
Rosberg still feels the FW29 to be too oversteery for his taste, but got it through to Q3 for the second time in a week, pipping teammate Alex Wurz by 0.1sec - the difference between getting through and not.
Anthony Davidson did a great job to get the Super Aguri through to Q2, lining up 13th between Kovalainen and Ralf Schumacher. The old Honda was 0.6sec faster than the current one, in which Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button squeaked through to Q2, lining up 15th and 16th. Some in the team are adamant the only reason it wasn't stuck solidly in Q1 was the quality of their drivers.