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BMW Sauber's Kubica claims pole at Bahrain GP

Associated Press
Apr 05, 2008 at 10:52pm IST

Sakhir: Robert Kubica is showing there's another team to be reckoned with in Formula One.

Kubica, Formula One's first Polish driver, snapped a Ferrari-McLaren monopoly on the top spot and boosted BMW Sauber's 2008 title aspirations after claiming pole position for Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix.

Kubica edged Felipe Massa of Ferrari by only 0.027 seconds on Saturday. It was the first pole for both Kubica and BMW Sauber.

PHOTO OP: McLaren Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton (L)and BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica pose for photographers.

The 23-year-old Krakow native broke a Ferrari-McLaren streak that had lasted 22 races. Fernando Alonso's pole for Renault at the Chinese GP in October 2006 was the last for another team.

Sauber hadn't claimed a pole since its debut at the South African GP in 1993 - a stretch of 252 races, including the 37 raced with BMW up to Bahrain.

"We are only in our third season and are at the very top of the grid for the first time," BMW Sauber motor sports director Mario Theissen said. "This is a fantastic day for Robert and our young team."

Kubica finished runner-up to world champion Kimi Raikkonen at the Malaysian GP last month for his second podium. His first came in only his third race - the 2006 Italian GP at Monza.

Kubica's eight championship points this season, along with teammate Nick Heidfeld's second-place showing at Melbourne, meant expectations were already high for the team coming into Bahrain.

Kubica said a strenuous offseason testing programme was the reason for the good results.

"We're always expecting to be strong. Finally, it has paid off that we never gave up working hard," Kubica said. "We pushed as hard as possible and we managed to be ready. A long race lies ahead of us tomorrow."

Kubica also credited an offseason diet for helping make his F1.08 car lighter.

"It was not easy," Kubica said. "But it makes for a profit in my performance, and this has been a key for me being so strong at the start of the season."

Ferrari let an opportunity slip away after dominating the weekend up to qualifying.

"Today we weren't at the top of our game at the key moment," team manager Luca Baldisserri said.

Raikkonen will line up fourth, behind overall leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren.

Massa - with no points from the first two races - got stuck behind eighth-place Nico Rosberg of Williams and No. 10 Alonso of Renault as he went out for his final qualifying lap.

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"It's good to be second, it's good to start on the front," Massa said. "I think we can be very strong tomorrow as we showed all weekend."

Massa, who claimed pole here last year on his way to winning the race, started first at Malaysia but retired after spinning out when he was in the lead.

McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen rounded out the top five for Sunday's race at the Bahrain International Circuit.

Hamilton leads the drivers' standings with 14 points, three more than world champion Raikkonen and Heidfeld, who placed sixth in qualifying.

Hamilton, who won the season-opening Australian GP, wobbled on his opening qualifying lap after crashing in practice on Friday.

"It makes absolutely no difference" Hamilton said of the crash. "I just get back in the car and go faster ... I went faster on the first lap in qualifying. It's important to go out and knock down that barrier and bounce back."

The 23-year-old Briton lost control through a tight series of turns on Friday before sliding sideways into the protective barrier. McLaren's crew worked overnight to repair both right wheels and other damage to the car.

"We have a good strategy. I'm confident," Hamilton said of his chances.

Toyota's Jarno Trulli was seventh and Jenson Button of Honda will start eighth.

FIA imposed a time limit so that cars would get off the track quickly after completing qualifying runs.

Both McLaren cars were penalised five grid positions at Sepang after being judged to have impeded the runs of oncoming cars as they returned to the garage.

Teams went to a lighter fuel load and switched between the medium and softer tires from the second session when the track temperature started to dip after peaking at 44 degrees Celsius.

Gusting wind and cloud cover lowered the temperature for the final session, affecting teams' strategy.

The lack of traction control left drivers needing to exercise caution at the curvy Bahrain International circuit.

Super Aguri's Takuma Sato spun out during the first session, as the rear of the Japanese driver's car clipped the protective barrier.

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