Felipe Massa grabbed pole position for his home Brazilian Grand Prix – but Lewis Hamilton remains in the perfect position to take the Formula One world title.
Massa thrilled his home fans at the Interlagos circuit with a searing lap in his Ferrari in the final qualifying session – and he will lead away the field for the ninth time in his career.
Alongside him on the front row of the grid will be championship leader Hamilton for McLaren – with title rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso directly behind him, just as he would want it.
For Hamilton, starting second on the grid is as good as being on pole with only Massa ahead of him, and with the 26-year-old out of the title picture.
With the race for the crown a three-horse affair for the first time in 21 years, Hamilton’s performance will delight the 22-year-old, with Alonso four points behind him and Raikkonen seven.
At least the trio will take comfort that tomorrow’s end-of-season showdown will unfold in glorious sunshine, unlike in the last two races in Japan and China which have been dominated by rain.
In perfect qualifying conditions, Massa produced a blistering display in Q3 with a lap of one minute 11.931secs, edging out Hamilton by 0.151secs.
Hamilton blew his first chance of wrapping up the championship in Shanghai a fortnight ago when he slid off into a pit lane gravel trap on seriously-worn tyres.
But the 22-year-old is determined to grab his second opportunity with both hands and become the first rookie, and the youngest driver to win the world championship.
Behind Alonso come Mark Webber for Red Bull Racing, followed by Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica in their BMW Saubers.
Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, David Coulthard for Red Bull and Nico Rosberg for Williams will start from eighth, ninth and 10th respectively.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello missed out on a place in the top 10 on home turf by 0.044secs, and will start 11th.
The 35-year-old at least managed to out-qualify Honda team-mate Jenson Button for the first time in seven races as the Briton is down in 16th.
In between are Giancarlo Fisichella for Renault, Sebastian Vettel and Vitantonio Liuzzi for Toro Rosso, along with Ralf Schumacher in his final race with Toyota.
Surprisingly, Heikki Kovalainen will start from 17th for Renault, his worst qualifying performance since the Canadian Grand Prix in June.
That will serve as a major disappointment for the Finn, especially as there are rumours test driver Nelson Piquet Jnr is to be given a race seat for next year.
Behind Kovalainen on the grid will be three Japanese drivers in Super Aguri’s Takuma Sato (18th), Kazuki Nakajima (19th) on his debut for Williams and Spyker’s Sakon Yamamoto (22nd).
Separating Nakajima and Yamamoto are Anthony Davidson for Super Aguri and Adrian Sutil in his Spyker.
Subject to the approval of the other team bosses, Spyker will be renamed Force India F1 for 2008 following the recent takeover by Indian billionaire Vijay Mallya and Dutchman Michiel Mol.
Leading Grid Positions after Qualifying:
1 Felipe Massa (Bra) Ferrari 1min 11.931secs,
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) McLaren 1:12.082,
3 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:12.322,
4 Fernando Alonso (Spa) McLaren 1:12.356,
5 Mark Webber (Aus) Red Bull 1:12.928,
6 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:13.081,
7 Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:13.129,
8 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:13.195,
9 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull 1:13.272,
10 Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams 1:13.477,
11 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:12.932,
12 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:12.968,
13 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:13.058,
14 Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:13.251,
15 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:13.315,
16 Jenson Button (Gbr) Honda 1:13.469,
17 Heikki Kovalainen (Fin) Renault 1:14.078,
18 Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri 1:14.098,
19 Kazuki Nakajima (Jpn) Williams 1:14.417,
20 Anthony Davidson (Gbr) Super Aguri 1:14.596,
21 Adrian Sutil (Ger) Spyker 1:15.217,
22 Sakon Yamamoto (Jpn) Spyker 1:15.487