Raikkonen takes pole for French GP

With rival McLaren penalized to the back of the grid, Ferrari is eager to take control of the F1 title race with a victory at the French Grand Prix on Sund

updated: June 26, 2008 16:04 IST
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With rival McLaren penalized to the back of the grid, Ferrari is eager to take control of the F1 title race with a victory at the French Grand Prix on Sunday.

Kimi Raikkonen finished 0.041 seconds ahead of Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa on Saturday for the third Italian 1-2 start of the season, which had begun so well with four wins at the first five GPs.

A return to a favored race track may swing back momentum that had been tempered by mixed showings at Monaco and Montreal.

"If I was not to win, I would be obviously be a bit disappointed, but the most important thing is to finish and bring home the maximum number of points, because we really need them," said Raikkonen, who clinched Ferrari's 200th career pole.

The defending world champion set a fastest lap of 1 minute, 16.449 seconds around the Circuit de Nevers.

"The main thing is to be fastest ... and that worked out very well for us," said the 28-year-old Finn, who also won here last year. "The car has been working very well all weekend."

Massa has nearly recovered from a stiff neck to start on the outside of the front row.

"Maybe I went a bit over the limit to try and get the potential from the car and I lost enough time to prevent me from doing better," the Brazilian said. "But front row is good."

Lewis Hamilton qualified third in 1:16.693 but will drop 10 places on the grid for causing an accident at the preceding Canadian GP.

Like his team, Hamilton has lowered his expectations.

"We'll just do the best we can, take it on the chin and try to take the best out if it," the 23-year-old McLaren driver said.

McLaren's misery got worse when race stewards penalized teammate Heikki Kovalainen five places for driving too slowly to hinder the qualifying lap of Red Bull's Mark Webber.

It is the second time that Kovalainen, who had qualified sixth, had been penalized for such an offense this season.

"I was just trying to stay out of people's way," Kovalainen said.

Fernando Alonso of Renault will move up to third after finishing fourth ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Kovalainen's infraction means overall Formula One leader Robert Kubica starts fifth and Nick Heidfeld, who finished second to Kubica in Canada, matched a season worst qualifying result of 12th.

Kubica's four-point advantage over Massa and Hamilton, and seven over Raikkonen, may only last one more night. If Massa overtakes Kubica in the F1 standings, that would make it four different championship leaders after the last four GPs.

"It looks like we're having a difficult weekend. I feel (the car) is quite poor compared to the past," Kubica said.

Raikkonen has never failed to finish in seven races at Magny Cours, and his pole position puts Ferrari in good shape to win its eighth French GP in 12 years.

"Hopefully, I don't make things any different tomorrow," Raikkonen said of his consistent record in France. "It's the best possible chance to win the race from first place. The car has been good all weekend."

Alonso, with the third fastest overall time in practice, gave the French fans hope of a first podium for Renault.

"For the first time this season we have the real chance to fight for the podium," the Spaniard said.

Overtaking is difficult along the smooth 4.411-kilometer (2.741-mile) circuit, though possible thunderstorms could change the race outcome.

Sebastien Bourdais remains a long way off from becoming the first Frenchman to win his home GP since Alain Prost 15 years ago. The Toro Rosso driver will start 14th, behind teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Nico Rosberg finished 15th but will start last on the grid after also picking up a 10-place penalty for his involvement in the pit lane accident at Montreal.