Felipe Massa took pole position for the first ever European Grand Prix in Valencia.
He will rejoin his battle with Lewis Hamilton from the Hungarian Grand Prix as the McLaren driver took second place on the grid.
Robert Kubica will start from third place ahead of Kimi Raikkonen. But the star of the session was Toro Rosso’s Sebastian Vettel, who was fastest in Q2 and will start sixth.
In the first part of qualifying and the track got quicker with every lap as the dirt and dust was lifted and fresh rubber went down.
Lewis Hamilton did one quick lap – a 1’38.464 – and sat on top of the times for much of the session until later on, when Felipe Massa knocked him off the top spot. The quickest time eventually went to Jarno Trulli, with a 1’37.948.
But the real battle was between the drivers at the bottom. Nelson Piquet Jnr and Nick Heidfeld found themselves in the drop zone and seemed to be briefly delayed by Timo Glock. But both drivers successfully made it into Q2.
Rubens Barrichello spent most of the session at the bottom of the times and only just managed to beat Adrian Sutil at the end. Giancarlo Fisichella who, like Sutil, was running the new seamless shift gearbox, beat Barrichello for 18th.
Jenson Button had been towards the sharp end for most of the session but fell into the drop zone in the dying moments by less than 0.1s, losing out to Piquet. David Coulthard joined him in the bottom five.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part one
16. Jenson Button 1’38.880
17. David Coulthard 1’39.235
18. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’39.268
19. Rubens Barrichello 1’39.811
20. Adrian Sutil 1’39.943
As the second part of qualifting began a few drops of rain fell and Ferrari and BMW got their drivers on track as quickly as possible. But the rain held off, and all the drivers got dry laps in.
Sebastian Vettel was fastest of the first batch of runners with a 1’37.842, less than a tenth of second faster than Jarno Trulli.
Where were the championship contenders? They seemed to be playing it cautious, not wishing to end their session in the barriers. Hamilton had a slight sideways moment but was still quick enough for third.
Few drivers found any improvement with their last laps and Vettel stayed on top as Massa made a late move up to second. Heidfeld managed third with his final effort but Raikkonen could do no better than eighth, four tenths of a second slower than his team mate.
Home favourite Fernando Alonso made an error on his final lap and ended the session 12th. With Mark Webber 14th ahead of Piquet there were no Renault-engined cars in the final ten.
Bottom five drivers’ times for part two
11. Kazuki Nakajima 1’38.428
12. Fernando Alonso 1’38.435
13. Timo Glock 1’38.499
14. Mark Webber 1’38.515
15. Nelson Piquet Jnr 1’38.744
Along with the usual clutch of McLaren, Ferraris and BMWs both Toro Rossos made it into the final part of qualifying, joined by Jarno Trulli and Nico Rosberg.
On the first round of laps the Ferrari drivers were fastest, but Massa was half a second quicker than Raikkonen. Kubica took up third ahead of Hamilton.
But on the final round Hamilton found almost a second in improvement and moved to the top of the times. Massa had more in his pocket as well, however, and his 1’38.989 gave him pole posiiton.
The unquestioned star of the session was Sebastian Vettel, and only a late error left him as low as sixth. He was within 0.2s of Kovalainen, and six tenths faster than his team mate. With the possiblity of safety car interruptions and all kinds of incidents tomorrow, Vettel could have a very strong race.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Felipe Massa 1’38.989
2. Lewis Hamilton 1.39.199
3. Robert Kubica 1’39.392
4. Kimi Raikkonen 1’39.488
5. Heikki Kovalainen 1’39.937
6. Sebastian Vettel 1’40.140
7. Jarno Trulli 1’40.309
8. Nick Heidfeld 1’40.631
9. Nico Rosberg 1’40.721
10. Sebastien Bourdais 1’40.750