Poland's Robert Kubica qualifies fastest
in Bahrain [GALLO/GETTY] 
Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber has edged Ferrari's Felipe Massa to take pole position for the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Kubica, Formula One's first Polish driver, snapped a Ferrari-McLaren monopoly on the top spot that had lasted 22 races. Fernando Alonso's pole for Renault at the Chinese GP in October 2006 was the last for another team.

Overall leader Lewis Hamilton of McLaren will start from third while Kimi Raikkonen had the fourth best qualifying time in his Ferrari.

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

Kubica, who was second at the Malaysian GP last month, clocked 1 minute, 33.096 seconds in the final 10-minute session. Massa, who won both of Friday's practice sessions, had 1:33.123.

"I was not expecting to be on pole, but I'm happy,'' Kubica said. "We have developed quite a lot.''

It is Sauber's first ever pole in 252 races, a stretch dating beyond its union with BMW in 2006.

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

"This is an example of never giving up, even if their are problems. We pushed as hard as possible and we managed to be ready,'' Kubica said.

"I'm confident about the race as well. We'll try to analyze now and prepare the car as best for tomorrow.''

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

Toyota's Jarno Trulli, Nico Rosberg of Williams, Jenson Button of Honda and Alonso rounded out the top 10 grid positions.

Massa battles

Massa, with zero points from the first two races, got stuck behind Rosberg and Alonso as he went out for his final qualifying lap.

"I did incredible laps during the whole weekend and just in Q3 was the only time I was behind cars,'' the 26-year-old Brazilian said.

"It's a shame but in a way I think we have a great car and we can have a great performance tomorrow.''

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

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

Both McLaren cars were penalized 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 (111 degrees Fahrenheit).

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.

Hamilton hopes to bounce back

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.

"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 Friday before sliding sideways into the protective barrier. McLaren's crew worked overnight to repair both right wheels and other damage to the car.

Red Bull's David Coulthard, who was fifth in practice earlier Saturday, failed to get out of the first qualifying session.

Force India was still looking to get out of the first session this season after Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella failed to advance for the third straight race.

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

Rosberg was fastest at the final practice session earlier Saturday, more than two-tenths of a second ahead of Massa.

Source: Agencies