Qualifying 1 review - Spain 02 May 2003
The new Ferrari F2003-GA made a triumphant debut at a race meeting as Michael Schumacher ended today's qualifying session for the Spanish Grand Prix with a comfortable fastest time. The world champion worked on set-up all morning, and calmly posted the best time of 1m 17.130s with minimal drama. "It's a good start," he smiled, "but I predict that the cars will be sliding around a lot in the heat on Sunday, so tyre performance is going to be critical."
Jarno Trulli maintained his morning form to take second, with 1m 17.149s, but Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso was only 10th on 1m 18.100s.
Barrichello was third quickest on 1m 17.218s, and was very happy. "I had to take the spare F2003-GA after my race car developed a water leak. I wasn't 100 percent comfortable with the seat in that, so in the circumstances I'm really pleased to be so close to Michael," he said.
Toyota also looked strong, on a circuit it knows well and for which it has good set-ups. Having momentarily been fastest this morning, Cristiano da Matta kept up the form this afternoon, his 1m 17.443s good enough for fourth. "Sure, it really helps to be on a track I know well," the reigning ChampCar champion said, "and I had a well balanced car, which also made a big difference."
Team-mate Olivier Panis was unhappy in the morning with his TF103 but honed its balance for sixth fastest time of 1m 17.764s in qualifying and spoke of possibly starting in the front two rows of the grid.
BAR's Jenson Button said he had no idea how quickly he was going because his onboard computer readout malfunctioned, but the Englishman was in top form to post fifth fastest time of 1m 17.613s, eclipsing team-mate Jacques Villeneuve who managed 1m 18.461s for 12th place.
Jaguar had further fluctuating fortunes. Mark Webber was very pleased with the balance of his R4 on his way to 1m 17.793s for seventh best time, though he thinks he will struggle to make the top 10 tomorrow. Antonio Pizzonia added another speeding fine to his tally this morning and had an incident with a Jaguar mechanic as he came into the pits, and was disappointed with 1m 18.528s for 13th overall.
At McLaren Mercedes Adrian Newey admits that the team isn't really sure where it stands as both Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard (1m 17.862s for eighth and 1m 18.060s for ninth respectively) had to run first and therefore encountered the notoriously fickle track at its dirtiest. "The new Ferrari is obviously quick, though, especially Michael's time," the technical director said reflectively.
BMW Williams was even more disappointed, with Ralf Schumacher (who was fastest this morning) only 11th and Juan Pablo Montoya 14th, on 1m 18.409s and 1m 18.607s respectively. Both drivers could be seen making mistakes as the FW25s slithered and slid round the circuit. "We need to look at the data to see what went wrong after this morning," chief operations engineer Sam Michael said. "The car was nowhere near as good as it was this morning."
Nor were the Jordans, and engineer Gary Anderson admitted that by the end of qualifying the team had rather lost its way after Fisichella had set a 1m 17.991s lap in private testing. The Circuit de Catalunya is a track where times are generally faster in the morning's conditions, but Jordan was nonetheless disappointed with the Italian's best of 1m 18.879s and Ralph Firman's 1m 19.050s, which left them 15th and 18th. They sandwiched the Saubers, in which Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld oversteered their way round after set-up changes had the opposite effect to that which was intended.
Finally, at Minardi Jos Verstappen had the upper hand over Justin Wilson for the first time today, both drivers struggling for grip in 40 degree C track temperatures.
As Michael Schumacher said, tyre choice is going to be critical tomorrow, not just for qualifying speed, but for wear in the race. The abrasive surface of the track habitually punishes tyres, especially the left front. "There are some Michelin runners who are close to us today, which could cause us a problem tomorrow," Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn admitted.