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Race preview - can anyone stop McLaren? 27 May 2007

The cars of Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren and Felipe Massa (BRA) Ferrari F2007 in parc ferme.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 26 May 2007 Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault R27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 26 May 2007 Robert Kubica (POL) BMW Sauber F1.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 26 May 2007 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Honda RA107 with new helmet design.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 26 May 2007 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Monaco Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, Saturday, 26 May 2007

If you were a cynic, the big question you might pose would be what will happen in the first corner this afternoon. Two McLarens on the front row, with two drivers fighting each other for the championship. A Ferrari on row two, its driver desperate to capitalise on any inter-team rivalry.

“We are both very professional, and we respect each other and we are team mates,” Lewis Hamilton said with a tolerant smile after qualifying. “We will do the job for the team. Going into that first corner I will be as aggressive as if I was going into it with a Ferrari, but we’ll be conservative, we are on different strategies, so we’ll see what happens. If I get a better start and it looks like I can pass, then I will. But I won’t be doing anything to jeopardise a possible 1-2.”

So now you know.

Actually, everything is pretty satisfactory at McLaren. At Ferrari, less so, after Kimi Raikkonen’s faux pas. It’s too hard to figure out which of the McLaren drivers has the heavier fuel load, but easier to suggest regarding the Ferraris. Raikkonen may get a bigger load so he can do a long first stint from his 16th place on the grid. The other tough question is whether the quick Ferrari was running lighter than the McLarens, and on that one the perceived intelligence at this stage is that the silver arrows have had a slight edge over the red cars all weekend, even though Ross Brawn was adamant last Wednesday that the F2007’s longer wheelbase would not be a penalty here.

You might think that Renault were running Giancarlo Fisichella light in order to reach fourth place, but the mood in that camp is positive and they believe they have made progress that will hold them in good stead in Canada and the US too.

Williams might be light, with Nico Rosberg fifth, but the German has been driving very nicely all weekend. He might even have gone faster, but experienced a rear suspension problem that limited him to only one run. Team mate Alex Wurz was hampered by running wide in Ste Devote on his quick lap.

Red Bull had their tail up with Monaco specialist Mark Webber’s sixth position, though the Australian reported trouble getting into a good rhythm, but nobody was very happy about the penalty that put David Coulthard out of Q3 and dropped him to an eventual 13th. The Scot was adamant that he would not have impeded Heikki Kovalainen had he known that the Finn was on a quick lap rather than an out lap.

It says much for the progress that BMW Sauber have made in 2007 that seventh and eighth places on the grid were outwardly disappointing, but team principal Dr Mario Theissen seemed happy enough. He reported that they had anticipated rain and thus sent Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica out earlier than they otherwise would have. That explains the German’s scruffy lap (the tyres were past their best), and there is plenty of optimism here for the race.

Honda are quite cheerful, too. There were few problems in the camp apart from Jenson Button having to disconnect a crackly radio, and the Englishman is definitely on a heavier fuel load than Rubens Barrichello.

Twelfth on the grid was a disappointment for Toro Rosso after Tonio Liuzzi’s fantastic performance in Q1 when he was fourth quickest, but a front wing change affected his car’s balance for Q2. Scott Speed’s progress was hampered when he got called to the pit lane weighbridge in a random check. The revised aerodynamic package (new barge boards and front wing) that arrived for Saturday was cautiously deemed an improvement, however.

Toyota’s story wasn’t particularly edifying. Jarno Trulli loves Monaco and screwed a 1m 17.686s best out of his TF107 despite a last-run brake problem, but Ralf Schumacher was only 20th with 1m 18.539s.

At Super Aguri, Takuma Sato complained of traffic on his first run and later failed to get out on to the track before the chequered flag, while Anthony Davidson admitted that his qualifying session was pretty frantic as he, too, was not sent out in time for his final try.

Adrian Sutil might have come down to earth in qualifying after his fastest time in the morning practice session, but the German put his Spyker a reasonable 19th on the grid as team mate Christijan Albers suffered a hydraulic problem and did not set a time.

As expected, then, qualifying was hectic for everybody, “very stressful for us all,” as Alonso admitted, but Sunday may be worse still if the forecast rain showers arrive during the Grand Prix.

David Tremayne