Analysis - the battle up front and the fight for the midfield
Was Lewis Hamilton running a lighter fuel load than Fernando Alonso? And are the Ferraris going to be able to do anything about the McLarens this afternoon? Those are the two key questions prior to the United States Grand Prix.
Hamiltons pole-winning lap was certainly smooth, but the fact that he said he was surprised that nobody beat him suggests that he wasnt running particularly light. f you looked at Fernando Alonsos demeanour - he said he was quite happy with second position and was confident for the race - it sounded good, but he did not look like a man who was particularly happy, which suggests he may have the lighter McLaren fuel load.
Meanwhile, though they are some way off the McLaren pace, both Ferrari drivers have looked good in long runs over the weekend and Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen said they were confident of being competitive in racing conditions. They are guarded in their comments, however, and if Nick Heidfeld makes one of his fast starts they could find their strategies compromised.
BMW Sauber took fifth and seventh places on the grid, but while Sebastian Vettel was quite happy to start his first Grand Prix from the latter position, Heidfeld was still grumbling about the balance in his F1.07 and firmly believed that with a little more grip he could have beaten the Ferraris. As it was, he is confident that he can run with the red cars in the race, while Vettel is simply aiming for some points to help the team in their fight with Renault for third place overall.
Sixth and 10th fastest times were a boost for Renault, who are slowly but surely getting back on the pace. Heikki Kovalainen said he was pretty happy with his car and that he had got everything he could out of it, while Giancarlo Fisichellas speed suggests that he has a bigger fuel load and will therefore be able to run longer in his opening stint. He said that he wasnt worried about his qualifying position and that he was confident of scoring points.
Jarno Trulli admitted to surprise that he got through to Q3 and qualified eighth, a position he didnt feel he should have been in. But where he has always been a good qualifier, team mate Ralf Schumacher lagged in 12th place in what some are suggesting may be his final Grand Prix. While Trulli said that his car generally lacked straight-line speed and grip in the infield, Schumacher said that a front wing change in Q2 made his TF107 more nervous.
Mark Webber described his weekend as scratchy, and that was pretty apposite. The RB3s looked very good in the final practice session on Saturday morning, and the Australian made it through to Q3 to qualify ninth. But David Coulthard was less fortunate and just missed getting through from Q2 by five-hundredths of a second. A spin in Q1 didnt help and he reported that his car was very tricky to drive as the team had backed the downforce right off in the interests of getting down the straight quickly. He and Webber were fastest through the speed trap.
Having got both cars through to Q2, Honda came up with 13th and 15th places (Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello), both drivers believing that they got everything out of the RA107s. crossed the line thinking had a good lap, and ended P13, Button said. But its also very close to the cars in front who actually have reasonably good cars, so its not so bad. At least one of them is likely to try a long run fuel strategy this afternoon.
Williams were very disappointed with 14th and 17th places on the grid (Nico Rosberg and Alex Wurz), after the promise their FW29 has shown of late. The German complained about traffic and a brake glazing problem which hurt his confidence a little, while Wurz was plagued by serious understeer.
Anthony Davidson was Super Aguris leading runner, getting through Q1 but not Q2, having caused a bit of concern when he tapped the wall coming out of Turn 13 in the final practice sessions. Thats why he switched to the T-car, which meant a hurried change of his race cars rear end to the spare car (so he didnt incur an engine change penalty). He only just made it out in time to Q1, got through, but couldnt find the sweet spot to get higher than 16th. Meanwhile, Takuma Sato struggled to find grip in his SA07 and was only 18th.
The Toro Rossos were the third and fourth fastest cars on the straight, but perhaps the team backed off the downforce a little too much as Tonio Liuzzi (19th) and Scott Speed (20th) struggled to find grip all through the infield section and finished Q1 just ahead of the two Spykers. t was, however, a close-run thing as a six-hundredth of a second improvement would have got Liuzzi into Q2.
Spykers Adrian Sutil complained of front tyre graining which hurt his final run, while Christijan Albers said his F8-V was slow on the straight.