An outstanding qualifying lap by Felipe Massa gives the Ferrari driver the historical feat of securing Formula One's first ever night-time pole position, after dominating Q3 in the Asian city tonight. Dubbed 'the perfect lap' by the Brazilian himself, Massa clocked a time of 1m44.801s in the dying moments of qualifying to go almost two thirds of a second clear of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton. Massa's team-mate, Kimi Räikkönen, will line-up directly behind him on the clean side of the grid in third place.
Right from Q1, Ferrari were on the pace, Although both Massa and Räikkönen completed two flying laps, they were able to comfortably climb to the top of the list, with Räikkönen setting the quickest overall on a 1m44.282s. At the blunter end of the field, Nelson Piquet was the biggest surprise of the 20 minutes after he was knocked out in 16th place (1m44.971s), despite showing impressive pace in practice. Sébastien Bourdais (1m46.037s) also failed to make the cut, along with Rubens Barrichello (1m46.583s) and Adrian Sutil (1m47.940s). Sutil's team-mate will line up last after hitting a barrier on his first flying lap, following lengthy repairs to fix damage brought on by a practice crash earlier today.
Moving into Q2, Renault's day went from bad to worse, when Fernando Alonso joined his team-mate in the lower reaches of the grid after his car developed a fuel feed problem on his first outlap. The Spaniard had looked an outside bet for pole position, but will now start back in 15th place, with little chance of a good result. Ironically, had he been able to get into Q2, it's likely he would have knocked his former team-mate Lewis Hamilton out of Q3, as the Briton just managed to scrape through, finishing 10th and taking the final qualifying place for the final session.
Joining Alonso as refugees from Q2 were Jarno Trulli (1m45.038s), Jenson Button (1m45.133s), Mark Webber (1m45.212s) and David Coulthard (1m45.298s).
In Q3, Ferrari again proved strong, with the first round of laps seeing Massa take provisional pole from Hamilton and Räikkönen, with the latter having a huge moment at the exit of the final corner, just managing to keep his Ferrari under control. Once the pressure was on for the final lap however, Massa was able to pull clear, taking two tenths out of Hamilton in each sector, just about driving within the limits to net his fifth pole of the season. Hamilton, who scraped by Räikkönen with a tenth to spare, may well be at a disadvantage starting from the dirty side of the grid, and Räikkönen's third place may turn out to benefit the Finn into turn 1.
Behind the top three, Robert Kubica again looked awesome in the BMW, clocking a 1m45.779s for fourth, followed by McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen (1m45.873s) who seemed to lose his way in Q3 having looked impressive in Q1 and Q2. Sixth place went to Nick Heidfeld (1m45.964s), followed by Sebastian Vettel (1m46.244s), Timo Glock (1m46.328s), Nico Rosberg (1m46.611s) and Kazuki Nakajima (1m47.547s), with the two Williams drivers making it into the top ten together for the first time this season.
Along with the weather, fuel loads will play a big part in the outcome of the race tomorrow, and strategies could be more varied than usual, given the inexperience of the teams at this track. Rumours within the paddock suggest that three-stop strategies may be the norm, while one-stop strategies by those further down the grid may be rare given that the time penalty for carrying more fuel is greater here than at other tracks. After today's performance however, Felipe Massa looks like he will be very difficult to beat tomorrow night, whatever the strategy.