Friday qualifying review - Trulli unstoppable 10 Oct 2003
Yet again Jarno Trulli was the man in form at Suzuka this afternoon, as the Renault driver dominated the first qualifying session. Building on his fastest time from practice the Italian bettered the times of the Schumacher brothers and worked down to 1m 30.281s, comfortably below Michael Schumacher's 2002 pole position time of 1m 31.317s.
"I had a clutch problem this morning," Trulli said, "but once that was fixed we were able to get a good balance on the car quite quickly and I was very happy with it. The chassis is well suited to this track, especially the Esses."
Michael Schumacher had set the initial pace, finding on this occasion that being the track cleaner (the first man to go out in the session) was not as disadvantageous as usual. "The car is well balanced and I was quite happy," he said. "But we haven't yet made our choice on tyres."
Kimi Raikkonen just failed to match the German's time, lapping his McLaren in 1m 30.558s after making up a lot of time in the second and third sectors, but both were beaten by Ralf Schumacher's 1m 30.343s. "I had heavy understeer this morning," the Williams driver reported. "But we made changes to the car this afternoon and it was a lot better. I still don't think we got the optimum from the car, though, so we have got work to do."
Subsequently David Coulthard repeated his morning promise and lapped faster than Raikkonen, in 1m 30.482s, and apart from admitting to being a bit cautious in the hairpin and having some mid-corner understeer, he was pretty happy with his McLaren and fourth fastest time.
Trulli's team mate Fernando Alonso was sixth, on 1m 30.624s, but was less happy with his car's handling balance. Rubens Barrichello completed the runners under 1m 31s with a lap in 1m 30.758s, underlining just how close the times were at the sharp end.
Juan Pablo Montoya was only eighth, and was not happy: "I had a problem with the gearbox after nine laps this morning, and that cost me a lot of time as the unit had to be changed. The set-up wasn't ideal this afternoon so I had to push very hard and still have a lot of work to do tomorrow morning. But Ralf's time shows that we have the potential to do well here."
Once again Mark Webber was in great form, taking his Jaguar to the ninth best time of 1m 31.305s. There was then quite a gap to Nick Heidfeld's 1m 31.783s for Sauber. "The car was oversteering in the fast corners," the German reported, "but 10th place is a good start in our defence of fifth place in the constructors' championship." While his team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen had the same problem and was 12th on 1m 31.892s, Webber's partner Justin Wilson again struggled on his way to 1m 32.291s and 15th place.
The most popular man in Suzuka is undoubtedly Takuma Sato, and the 26 year-old Japanese driver rose well to the occasion to take 12th fastest time in 1m 31.832s for BAR. Team mate Jenson Button struggled in a car that was not fully set-up after losing so much time with his engine failure this morning, and had to be content with 1m 32.374s for 16th.
Both Toyota drivers were disappointed with their TF103s' lack of grip and balance, having come to Suzuka with high expectations. Panis lapped in 1m 31.908s for 13th place, da Matta in 1m 32.256s for 14th.
Ralph Firman put all his considerable knowledge of this difficult track to good use to out-qualify Jordan team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, the Englishman managing 1m 33.057s compared to the Italian's 1m 33.313s. Finally, Jos Verstappen was the faster Minardi driver thanks to a lap of 1m 34.836s, and Nicolas Kiesa brought up the rear on 1m 36.181s.
Generally the drivers welcomed changes to the circuit, which centred on greater run-off area to the infamous 130R corner and a less tight chicane, but there were reservations. "130R is still flat," Ralf Schumacher said, "but there is a fairly big bump right on the apex which makes the corner very difficult."
"The changes are not quite what we wanted," brother Michael said. "Overtaking will still be difficult, but sometimes things look different on paper than in reality."
Click here for the qualifying results in full.