The 2004 qualifying battle so far... 03 May 2004
The one person you most want to beat in qualifying is your team mate, regardless of who you drive for. After all, no one wants to be outpaced in identical machinery. But which drivers have the upper hand to date, four rounds into the 2004 season?
No contest here. With his three pole positions and one P2, Michael Schumacher wins it four-zero from Rubens Barrichello. To the Brazilians credit though, there has never been more than one car between the two Ferraris, and he has generally kept the champions advantage down to under half a second. Barrichellos best performance was, perhaps tellingly, at the opening round in Australia where he was just 0.074s off Schumachers pole time. At the next race, though, he was suddenly almost seven tenths adrift. Since then, at Bahrain and San Marino, the margin has closed back to 0.391s and 0.440s respectively.
Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli are currently level pegging on two-two, though that doesnt tell the full story. On the two occasions Trulli prevailed, his younger team mate made crucial mistakes. When both men kept it together over the flying lap, the Spaniard came out on top - by 0.591s in Australia and by 0.139s at Imola. A classic case of speed versus consistency.
Jenson Button has used his superior Formula One experience to good effect to lead team mate Takuma Sato three-one. Notably, though, in Bahrain, where both men were presented with an all-new circuit, the Japanese driver prevailed, albeit by just 0.029s. Everywhere else Button has been at least eight tenths ahead, and Sato did not help things by spinning off on his flying lap in Malaysia.
A whitewash for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian has made the second row in every race so far, while Ralf Schumacher has been as low as eighth place. That was at the opening round in Australia where he was almost a second adrift of Montoya. Since then he has been within four tenths at every round, but has still to better his McLaren-bound team mate. Bahrain was the closest where he got the margin as low as 0.052s.
Another dead heat here, but a misleading one. In both San Marino and Bahrain, engine problems meant that Kimi Raikkonen did not set a time. In a straight fight with David Coulthard, the Finn has been superior by almost a second in Australia and by just over four tenths in Malaysia.
One of the most eagerly awaited qualifying battles that between Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa has proved to be a fascinating one. Returning to competitive Formula One racing after a year away testing with Ferrari, Massa took his more experienced Italian team mate by surprise at the opening round, out-qualifying him by over three quarters of a second. Fisichella fought back in Malaysia, edging the young Brazilian by just 0.022s. He was ahead again in Bahrain, extending the margin to 0.805s, while at San Marino he failed to set a time due to mechanical problems, leaving the score level at two all.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Mark Webber has generally been consistently, and convincingly, quicker than his rookie team mate Christian Klien. The high point was the Australians second on the grid in Malaysia, 11 places and almost 1.5s ahead of his number two. Webbers low came at the following round in Bahrain, where Klien bettered him by two grid spots and 0.293s. Overall, though, its a representative three-one to the Jaguar team leader. Klien failed to set a time at the season opener due to a hydraulic problem, while at San Marino he was over a second adrift of Webber.
One would expect a similar situation here as at Jaguar, with the highly experienced (and highly regarded) Nick Heidfeld lining up against Italian newcomer Giorgio Pantano. And so it has proved, with Heidfeld leading three-one to date. Pantano struggled to stay in touch in the first two rounds, finishing 1.962s and a mammoth 3.337s down on the German in Australia and Malaysia. However, in Bahrain he closed the gap to little over half a second, before out-qualifying the Jordan number one at Imola by 0.136s.
Cristiano da Matta has had the edge over Olivier Panis so far, with the score currently three-one in the Brazilians favour. He was 0.7s quicker in Malaysia and 0.471s ahead in San Marino. Panis took the advantage in Bahrain, but only by 0.031s. It should be noted, though, that an electronics problem prevented the Frenchman recording a time in Melbourne after he had gone over a second quicker than da Matta in the first part of qualifying.
Zsolt Baumgartner may have more Grand Prix experience than rookie team mate Gianmaria Bruni, but in qualifying he has been living in the Italians shadow. Bruni has proved to be the quicker of the pair, usually by a significant margin, and leads three-one. He failed to set a time in Australia due to mechanical problems, but even there he was over 1.5s quicker than Baumgartner in the first part of qualifying. Baumgartner lost out on his chance to level the score at Imola after spinning during his flying lap.