MAGNY-COURS, France (Reuters) - World champion Kimi Raikkonen handed Ferrari their 200th pole position in Formula One in a front row sweep for the Italian team at the French Grand Prix on Saturday.
Brazilian Felipe Massa, who took pole at Magny-Cours last year, was second fastest to secure the Italian team’s third one-two in qualifying this season.
The pole, the 16th of Raikkonen’s grand prix career, left the Finn perfectly placed to repeat his 2007 victory at the circuit.
Poland’s Robert Kubica, the championship leader for BMW-Sauber after his victory in Canada earlier this month, qualified seventh but will start sixth because of a 10-place penalty imposed on McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton, who picked up the punishment after crashing into Raikkonen in the Canadian Grand Prix pit lane, qualified third and will start 13th.
His demotion left Renault’s double world champion Fernando Alonso sharing the second row with Italian Jarno Trulli in a Toyota.
McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen moved up to fifth.
Kubica leads Hamilton and Massa by four points in the championship with Raikkonen a further three adrift after seven races.
“It’s the best possible chance to win the race from the first place and the car has been good all weekend, so hopefully we will get some good points here,” said Raikkonen, who has failed to score in his two previous starts.
“It’s going to be a long race. I’m pretty sure we have a good race car but as we’ve seen before, anything can happen.”
Raikkonen failed to finish in Canada after the pit lane collision and drew a blank in Monaco after running into the back of Adrian Sutil’s Force India while in fifth place. But he has never failed to finish in France.
“It’s very nice for the whole team but I am just a small part of it,” he said of the landmark pole, 57 years since the first by Argentine Jose Froilan Gonzalez at Silverstone in 1951.
“I am happy to achieve their 200th one...but nothing else really changes.”
Raikkonen finished second in France for McLaren in 2005 from 13th place on the starting grid and Hamilton took comfort from that statistic.
The Briton, who had led the championship before his Montreal gaffe, blamed himself, however, for errors on the exit to turn seven on both of his quick laps that he said had cost him “a good chunk of time.
“It’s quite a disappointing qualifying, I think, for me. I have to apologise to the team, I didn’t do a great job at all,” said the 23-year-old Briton.
“I was pushing and trying to get the best out of the car and I did in most areas except that one. We just missed out but we will push very hard tomorrow.”
He had no illusions about the task ahead, however.
“It’s tough. We’re here to race and compete for wins. When you know that you don’t have a chance of doing that then it puts you on the back foot,” said Hamilton.
“If we can pull off some points from this weekend it will be a major bonus.”
Australian Mark Webber, in a Red Bull, will start on the third row with British team mate David Coulthard alongside.
Germany’s Nico Rosberg, also involved in Hamilton’s Montreal crash and penalised 10 places, starts at the back for Williams while France’s only grand prix driver Sebastien Bourdais qualified 14th for Toro Rosso.
Brazilian Nelson Piquet, still without a point, will make his first top 10 start after moving up to that position following Hamilton’s demotion.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin; editing by John Mehaffey