SAO PAULO, Brazil – Felipe Massa took the pole Saturday for the decisive Brazilian Grand Prix, with overall leader Lewis Hamilton beside him in position to become Formula One’s youngest champion.
Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso – Hamilton’s rivals for the title – will start in the second row, with Raikkonen third and Alonso fourth.
“I think we sit in good position,” Hamilton said. “It’s a good place for us to start.”
Massa, the defending champion, drove his Ferrari around the 2.6-mile counter-clockwise Interlagos track in 1 minute, 11.931 seconds. The Brazilian was .151 faster than Hamilton and .391 faster than Ferrari teammate Raikkonen. Alonso, Hamilton’s McLaren teammate, timed 1:12.356.
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“This is sensational,” Massa said. “And hopefully the guys behind me will have a good fight. It will be very nice for these (fans) to watch a good race. Hopefully I can go for the victory.”
The Brazilian GP on Sunday will decide the tightest F1 race for the championship in 21 years. The 22-year-old Hamilton has 107 points, four more than McLaren teammate Alonso and seven more than Raikkonen. A win is worth 10 points.
A top-two finish for Hamilton will guarantee the Briton becomes the first rookie to win the drivers’ championship and F1’s youngest champion, surpassing Alonso’s feat in 2005. A title also would make Hamilton the first British F1 champion since Damon Hill in 1996.
“I am quite confident and relaxed for tomorrow and I know what I have to do to win the championship,” Hamilton said. “My focus is not on winning the race, but the title.”
Fifteen of the last 16 winners have started in the front row this season. In Interlagos, front-row starters have won every race since 2004.
The qualifying on Saturday was in warm and sunny conditions, which are expected for the race.
All three title contenders easily made it through the first two elimination sessions but Massa came out strong in the final part of the time trials, with the Brazilian clinching the pole to the delight of the fans that packed the Interlagos grandstands.
Raikkonen lost time while trying to make a pass over Hamilton in the middle of his last quick lap, and said he expected it was going to be “much easier” to make the pass.
Hamilton said he didn’t intentionally get in Raikkonen’s way.
“I realized he was very, very close so I slowed down,” Hamilton said. “I backed out and he went past me.”
Massa, who won four races in the previous five times he started from the pole, had been fastest in Saturday’s last practice before qualifying, also edging Hamilton, Raikkonen and Alonso.
Alonso, the two-time defending champion, isn’t giving up on the title.
“As we have seen in China a lot of things can take place during a long race, so we will have to wait and see what happens,” Alonso said. “I need a very special race if I want to become champion.”
Hamilton was looking for his seventh pole. He started in the front spot in the last two races, winning the Japanese GP but failing in China, where he ran off the track in rainy conditions. The mistake cost him a chance to clinch the title.
Hamilton had the fastest practice time on Friday (1:12.767), and escaped a penalty for using two sets of wet tires during the morning session in breach of FIA regulations. His McLaren team was fined $21,400 and prevented from using the extra set of wet tires on Hamilton’s car for the remainder of the weekend.
It is the first time since 1986 – when Alain Prost was the champion – that three drivers have a chance of winning the title in the last race.
Associated Press Writer Stan Lehman contributed to this report.