Felipe Massa leaves the pits at the
Istanbul Park track [AFP]
Ferrari's Felipe Massa has won pole position for the Turkish Grand Prix for the third straight year.

The two-time defending champion here will start first on the grid for Sunday's race at the Istanbul Speed Park after clocking a best lap time of 1 minute, 27.617 seconds.

"I think I put together a very good lap ... it proved to be enough to be on pole,'' Massa said.

"I'm so happy here, to be on pole for the third time here. It's a fantastic track for me.''

Heikki Kovalainen of McLaren will start second after finishing less than two-tenths of a second behind Massa.

Kovalainen's best career qualifying position comes less than two weeks after a violent crash at the Spanish GP that left the Finn in the hospital.

"It's been a bit of a roller coaster obviously the last couple of weeks,'' Kovalainen said.

"A big accident in Spain and I have been lucky to survive without any injuries. Coming here ... I felt very confident with the car. It's a pleasure to start from front row.''

A defective wheel part caused a tire on Kovalainen's car to explode and send him barreling into a wall at high speed.

Though he had to spend the night in a hospital with a concussion, Kovalainen was cleared for Sunday's race after passing medical checks by governing body FIA on Thursday.

"Like I said, I wouldn't have come here if I didn't feel 100 percent fit,'' the Finn said.

"Hopefully tomorrow we can do a good race on this position, it's my best starting position. It's not that big a milestone ... I would rather be on pole.''

Teammate Lewis Hamilton will start from third ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari, while BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica goes from fifth.

Mark Webber of Red Bull starts sixth ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso, while Jarni Trulli of Toyota, BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld and David Coulthard of Red Bull rounded out the top 10.

Massa looks for three-peat

Massa, who won his first-ever GP here in 2006, is looking to be the first driver to win the same race three straight years since former teammate Michael Schumacher won four consecutive races at Indianapolis between 2003-06.

Massa's championship aspirations have gained momentum after failing to get a point in the first two races of the season. The Brazilian driver rebounded with a second Bahrain GP trophy and a runner-up finish to Raikkonen at the Spanish GP.

"It won't be easy because our competitors are quite strong and close,'' Massa said.

"We'll try to do everything right and put the tires on at the right moment.''

All three Turkish GPs have been won by the pole sitter.

Defending world champion Raikkonen leads the overall standings with 29 points, nine more than Hamilton.

Kubica is next at 19 with Massa a further point behind in fourth.

Raikkonen struggles

Raikkonen, who won the inaugural Turkish GP when he was with McLaren three years ago, has struggled to find his car's balance since a gearbox problem forced him out of Friday's first practice session.

The Finn looked jittery through the first two rounds of qualifying but got it together in the final session.

The Turkish GP has been moved up from its usual date in the hot days of August, leaving teams grappling with cool weather instead of the usual sunshine.

Track temperature increased in qualifying, helping tires warm quicker to see lap times drop while a gusting wind challenged drivers along the undulating course.

Hamilton switched back to the harder compound for the final qualifying session, which turned out to be a mistake.

"I chose the wrong tire and it didn't give me the performance, and the car didn't feel great,'' the 23-year-old Briton said.

"It could be better for sure. And the lap wasn't very good either so it's pretty disappointing.''

Super Aguri out

Super Aguri's withdrawal from the Formula One championship meant that only five, rather than six, cars were excluded after each of the first two parts of qualifying.

Super Aguri pulled out of F1 on Tuesday due to financial difficulties.

Giancarlo Fisichella of Force India starts last despite finishing 19th in qualifying because he exited pit lane before the green light went on to start Friday's practice sessions.

Teammate Adrian Sutil swapped spots with the Italian.

Webber set the pace in the third practice session earlier Saturday with a best lap time of 1:27.030.