Best ever qualifying slot for a Japanese driver
After the upset that was Monaco last year, the more cynical Formula One pundits were quick to predict a return to Ferrari dominance at the Nurburgring. Sure enough the champions scored another one-two finish, but that was far from the whole story...
Schumacher may have taken the ten points, but for many the driver of the weekend was Takuma Sato. With BAR team mates Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson having topped three of the four practice sessions between them, Sato moved to the fore in pre-qualifying, with a stunning lap that remained unbeaten all meeting. He couldnt quite repeat the performance in qualifying proper, but he still became the first Japanese ever to clinch a front-row grid spot, lining up alongside polesitter Schumacher.
In the race it became clear that BARs pace had worried Ferrari enough for them to run Schumacher on an unusually light fuel load. The champion promptly scampered off into the lead, leaving Sato to fend off the fast-starting Renault of Jarno Trulli. However, their squabble cost both men places and by the end of lap one it was Kimi Raikkonen in second, from Fernando Alonso, Sato, Rubens Barrichello, Button and Trulli. Behind them the two Williams had made contact at Turn one, putting Ralf Schumacher out of the race, as well as innocent victim Cristiano da Matta. Raikkonens lack off pace played into Ferraris hands, with a train of potentially quicker cars building up behind the McLaren as Schumacher extended his lead up front.
Barrichellos two-stop strategy (Schumacher and most of the rest were on three) helped lift him to second, with Sato emerging as the only real challenger to Ferraris one-two formation. On lap 46, on fresh tyres, he made a rather ambitious lunge up the inside of the Brazilian into the first turn. It almost came off, but slight contact with the Ferrari lost his BAR its front wing and he was forced to pit, elevating team mate Button to podium status. Satos chances of fourth then ended just two laps later when, yet again, his Honda engine expired.
The Renaults of Trulli and Alonso, comprehensively out-performed by the BARs, picked up fourth and fifth to consolidate the teams second spot in the standings. Meanwhile, the two-stopping Sauber of Giancarlo Fisichella took an excellent sixth, coming from 19th on the grid after an engine change and fending off the hard-charging Jaguar of Mark Webber in the closing stages. Juan Pablo Montoya recovered from his first lap drama to pick up a consolatory point for Williams, while another dismal weekend for McLaren saw both David Coulthard and Raikkonen retire with engine failures.
Links: Results / Live Timing Archive, Photos, TV images