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Sunday race preview - simply too close to call in Germany 22 Jul 2007

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 20 July 2007 Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 Nick Heidfeld (GER) BMW Sauber F1.07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing RB3.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Practice Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Friday, 20 July 2007 Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri F1 SA07.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, European Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Nurburgring, Germany, Saturday, 21 July 2007

Quite whether Lewis Hamilton’s qualifying crash helped Ferrari to pole position over McLaren at the Nurburgring will forever be a moot point, but with a lap of 1m 31.450s Kimi Raikkonen certainly seemed pretty satisfied.

With a light fuel load in Q1 and Q2 his Ferrari had struggled a little for grip, but he felt it come back as he ran with his race fuel load and was generally happy with the way things went.

The delay while Hamilton’s McLaren was cleared away and the tyre wall was repaired stretched everyone and meant that the final five minutes of the session was a real lottery once it resumed after 33 minutes. Felipe Massa, for one, admitted that he lost a little momentum and concentration in the second Ferrari, and had to be satisfied with third place on 1m 31.778s as a result.

Hamilton’s accident could scarcely have come at a worse time for McLaren, with the upcoming World Motor Sport Council meeting in Paris on Thursday, but ultimately it was less traumatic than it might have been. There is little doubt that the problem with his right front wheel/tyre originated because of a malfunctioning wheel gun, and the fact that even when a second was used the wheel nut did not tighten fully.

Thankfully, the 22 year-old Englishman has been cleared to race, but will start 10th, the worst grid position in his brief Formula One career, after his fuel-burning lap of 1m 33.833s. McLaren have confirmed that he will start with the same fuel load that he qualified with, rather than adopting a free strategy and starting from the back or from the pit lane.

The better news for the team was that Fernando Alonso joined Raikkonen on the front row with his lap of 1m 31.741s, though a big oversteer moment that put the Spaniard out of control going into Turn Six on his best lap denied him the chance to challenge for pole.

Neither team was confident enough to predict their performance relative to their deadly rival, but it appears that a great race is in prospect.

BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld came to Nurburgring with the feeling that a strong result was up for grabs, and was very happy to qualify fourth on 1m 31.840s. He was even happier, understandably, that at 5.24 that morning partner Patricia had given birth to their second child, son Joda. Team principal Mario Theissen was pretty pleased too, especially as team mate Robert Kubica was on the third row in fifth place, with 1m 32.123s.

Mark Webber was sixth with 1m 32.476s for Red Bull, and thus happy not just to be in the top 10, as he had predicted the previous day, but on the third row and in with a chance to fight Toyota, Renault and Williams for points.

David Coulthard, however, was only 20th on 1m 33.151s, claiming he was blocked by Webber on his first run when the Australian locked his brakes, then failing to get the timing of his second run right so that he got the chequered flag as he came round to start his final run.

Qualifying proved to be bitter-sweet for Renault, with Heikki Kovalainen seventh on 1m 32.478s but Giancarlo Fisichella only 13th on 1m 32.010s. The former was frustrated to lose out to Webber by such an insignificant margin, but expressed himself very pleased with the effect of a new front wing. Fisichella was equally enamoured of it, though it needed a lot of set-up work to hone the balance of the R27, but spoiled his chances by over-trying. Part of the underlying trouble here is getting the tyres to work with the chassis, so pushing too hard just exacerbated the problem.

Once again the Toyotas qualified well, with Jarno Trulli eighth on 1m 32.501s and Ralf Schumacher ninth, almost inseparable, on 1m 32.570s. The €talian was slightly lucky, having spun in Turn 14 during Q2. Whether the cars can maintain such pace in the race remains to be seen, after their last two outings.

With Nico Rosberg 11th on 1m 31.978s and Alex Wurz 12th on 1m 31.996s, Williams had a pair of evenly-matched drivers. The German blamed traffic for the miniscule amount by which he missed getting through to Q3, but both were happy with their FW29s.

The best Honda could do was 14th place for Rubens Barrichello on 1m 32.22s, but with Jenson Button 17th on 1m 32.983s this was a deeply disappointing day for the team as both drivers complained that all the grip and balance their revised cars had displayed earlier in the weekend had disappeared when they most needed it.

Super Aguri were sandwiched between their brethren, with Anthony Davidson 15th on 1m 32.451s and Takuma Sato 16th behind him on 1m 32.838s. They pushed one another hard, were delighted to get through to Q2, and only a yellow flag at a crucial point on his second run left Sato less than fully happy.

Things were far less cheerful down at Toro Rosso, where Scott Speed qualified 18th on 1m 33.038s, using the latest aero kit. Tonio Liuzzi didn’t have the benefit of that, so did well to take 19th place with 1m 33.148s since it was generally deemed to be worth three-tenths of a second a lap. He also had ongoing brake problems.

€t was always going to be a tough call for debutant Markus Winkelhock to out-qualify Adrian Sutil at Spyker, and thus it proved. The younger German ended up in his habitual 21st spot with a lap of 1m 34.500s while fighting locking front brakes; his temporary partner was last on 1m 35.946s, disappointed to encounter too much oversteer when he tried to push hard on his second set of tyres.

David Tremayne