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Raikkonen on pole for Ferrari debut
Alan Baldwin | March 17, 2007 11:55 IST
The Finnish 'Iceman' saw off the challenge of McLaren's double world champion Fernando Alonso to become the first Ferrari driver in 51 years to secure pole in his first appearance for the Italian glamour team.
The last was the late Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio in his home grand prix in 1956.
Alonso, who will make his McLaren debut after winning the Formula One championship for the past two years with Renault, had to make do with second place on the starting grid.
"I think we have a good race package. We are more confident for the race than for qualifying, definitely," said Raikkonen, successor at Ferrari to retired seven-times world champion Michael Schumacher.
It was the 12th pole position of his career, after 11 with McLaren, and his first since Italy last year.
BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld shared the second row with McLaren's 22-year-old British rookie Lewis Hamilton, who continued an outstanding weekend by qualifying fourth for his debut race.
Ferrari's Brazilian Felipe Massa, winner of the last grand prix of 2006 in Sao Paulo, failed to make the final qualifying session after slowing and pulling over with a gearbox problem. He will start 16th.
Sunday will be the first season-opener since 1991 without Schumacher on the starting grid but Raikkonen, relaxed and unemotional as ever, has already achieved something the great German never managed.
If he wins on Sunday he will do something else, becoming the first Ferrari driver to win on his debut for the team since Briton Nigel Mansell in 1989.
"So long as everything works well and we don't have any problems, we should be pretty okay," he said. "But so many things can happen and usually the race here is quite a funny one.
"So we will do the best that we can and hopefully we can win," he added.
Alonso, slower than Hamilton in the first qualifying session and struggling with set-up earlier in the day, felt McLaren had made a big step up since last year when they failed to win a race for the first time in a decade.
"First qualifying of the year is always a little bit more stressful because you need to get used to the system again," said the Spaniard.
"I think the team have done a fantastic job during the winter to make the car work and be competitive. We cannot forget that last year we were not so competitive.
"They made a huge step forward and I think the drivers need to thank the people."
BMW Sauber also appeared to have made a significant step forward, with Heidfeld's Polish team mate Robert Kubica qualifying fifth.
"It's the way we hoped it would turn out after winter testing, but I didn't expect to be here now today in third position," said Heidfeld. "I was quite sure we could make it into the top 10 but probably more fifth or sixth."
Champions Renault had a disappointing afternoon, with Italian Giancarlo Fisichella sixth on the grid and Finnish rookie Heikki Kovalainen 13th.
"My position is pretty much as expected, behind McLaren and Ferrari," said Fisichella. "But I think I could have gained a place or two without traffic on my final timed lap."
There was disappointment for Honda, whose new 'Earth Car' promoting environmental awareness at least did its bit for saving fuel by failing to reach the final qualifying stage.
There was also embarrassment for the team, with Briton Jenson Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello both outqualified by last season's Honda-backed tail-enders Super Aguri.
Japan's Takuma Sato qualified 10th, the team's first top 10 start, with Briton Anthony Davidson 11th.
Australian Mark Webber gave the home crowd something to cheer as well with seventh place on the grid in his Renault-powered Red Bull.
Formula One: The Complete Coverage