Friday qualifying review - Trulli on top 22 Aug 2003
The leading contenders in the world championship fight rightly believed that they were disadvantaged in having to start this afternoon's qualifying session first, but Jarno Trulli smiled through it all as he savoured fastest time for Renault. The Italian was the eighth man out and found track conditions as good as they got. The result was a nice, clean lap of 1m 22.358s that really came together in the final sector and was sufficient to dislodge previously fastest runner Ralf Schumacher.
The German had redefined the ante after brother Michael, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen had all disappointed. The world champion set the ball rolling with 1m 23.430s, Montoya improved that to 1m 23.305s, and Raikkonen was faster than both in the first two sectors before losing all that and more by sliding very wide in Turn 11. His time was 1m 23.695s.
When Ralf managed 1m 22.413s it seemed more like it, since Olivier Panis had done 1m 21.770s in the morning for Toyota, but track conditions had changed for qualifying. The track temperature would get as high as 45 degrees at one stage, and initially the circuit was very dusty after the support race practices had seen plenty of cars sliding off the road. "For sure all of the title contenders were at a disadvantage having to run early," Michael Schumacher said as he reflected on what became only the ninth fastest lap.
Montoya agreed. "That wasn't the ideal lap for me. I braked too early for Turn One, the balance of the car wasn't perfect compared to this morning, and the track was dirty."
Ralf, however, was happy. "We had some set-up problems this morning, but the changes we made were proved to be the right ones."
As Montoya and Raikkonen languished in eighth and 12th places, Mark Webber did a strong job for Jaguar, setting the fastest time in the second sector on his way to third fastest time overall of 1m 22.625s. That displaced David Coulthard, on 1m 22.786s, but the Scot was in contented mood as his ninth year with McLaren was announced publicly immediately after this morning's practice session. "I had a nice and tidy lap," he said. "I was a bit too tentative in the first corner but overall it was a good start to the weekend."
Despite Rubens Barrichello being only fifth (on 1m 22.892s) and Schumacher ninth, Ferrari was keeping its perspective. "It was a good lap," the Brazilian said, "but the problem was the balance. I expected the car to understeer in the changed track conditions, so I was surprised to find it oversteering,"
Technical director Ross Brawn nevertheless believes that Ferrari will be strong this weekend. "We had a good balance this morning which was missing this afternoon, and on this circuit the running order is probably more crucial than anywhere else."
Fernando Alonso lost some running time after an engine problem this morning, and found the balance of his R23 "less than perfect" on his way to sixth fastest lap of 1m 22.953s, having set the fastest time in sector three to make up a lot of ground. He went just fast enough to stay ahead of Panis, who said he was as disappointed with seventh place and 1m 22.986s in qualifying as he had been delighted with fastest time in the morning. "The balance was still good," he revealed, "but we lost grip as the conditions changed."
Behind Montoya and Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld and Heinz-Harald Frentzen bubbled through for 10th and 11th fastest times of 1m 23.482s and 1m 23.660s respectively. Heidfeld spoiled the first sector by getting on the dirt and lost six-tenths, but did well to recover, while Frentzen's speed in sector one hurt his Bridgestones a little by the end of the lap. Nevertheless, both were very happy with the progress the team was able to demonstrate.
At BAR some first-corner oversteer allowed Jenson Button to demonstrate his art but didn't help him to better 1m 24.313s for 13th, just ahead of team mate Jacques Villeneuve on 1m 24.333s. Right behind them was Justin Wilson, who had a big twitch in sector one but also recovered well for a best of 1m 24.343s. At the back Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralph Firman fought their Jordans to 1m 24.725s and 1m 25.223s respectively, followed by Jos Verstappen and Nicolas Kiesa on 1m 26.052s and 1m 27.023s for Minardi.
The final runner was Cristiano da Matta, who spun in Turn 13 and ended the afternoon on 1m 55.138s. "I don't know what happened," the bemused Brazilian reported. "The car felt fine and then suddenly it spun. I think maybe there was something that went wrong in the traction control."