Friday qualifying review - Trulli unstoppable 26 Sep 2003
We've become used to Michael 'Track Cleaner' Schumacher being some way down the Friday qualifying times, but when Rubens Barrichello was dislodged from the top of the time sheets by Jarno Trulli, everyone sat up and took notice.
On a track that was still damp in places from practice's rain, Schumacher managed 1m 10.736s as the first man out, but that was soon put into perspective by Juan Pablo Montoya's 1m 10.372s. Kimi Raikkonen's 1m 10.756s just failed to match Schumacher, and then Ralf Schumacher redefined everything with 1m 10.222s. So far it looked promising for the Michelin runners, but then out came Rubens Barrichello in his Bridgestone-shod Ferrari, and there was the lap: 1m 9.835s. Yet again, it seemed, the Brazilian had saved the day for Ferrari (Schumacher ended it only eighth). But things weren't quite over. Fernando Alonso and David Coulthard both failed to make significant impacts. The Spaniard had too much understeer as he lapped in 1m 10.556s, the Scot in 1m 10.450s. Worthy performances both, but insufficient. But then came Trulli, charging along in his Renault to stop the clocks in 1m 9.566s, and suddenly the tyre balance switched again.
"I am very satisfied with that result," the Italian said. "Everyone did a good job this morning and we improved on the baseline we found during the testing session, which were very useful today. The balance is good and the car is quick. I am very confident for the weekend."
Barrichello was nevertheless quite happy. "My car was good right from the first lap this morning," he said. "It will be a very tight battle between us, Williams McLaren and Renault all weekend."
"Michael again had to clean the dust off the circuit," explained technical director Ross Brawn. "But Rubens did a good lap and that is where we expected to be. Renault could become a pain if they qualify in the top six, particularly taking into account that they tend to have such good starts."
The mood is also buoyant at Williams, with Ralf Schumacher fourth and Montoya fifth and some more potent BMW V10s. "I got a little bit of a headache after morning practice," Schumacher confessed, "but I have to go through that. My lap was not perfect this afternoon. We did not have enough dry running in the morning to optimise the set-up so there is plenty of room for improvement."
Montoya was happy to be the fastest of the three World Championship contenders. "I did not do too many dry laps and I was unsure about the set-up. I braked too early in several places. It seems however that Michelin has a quite a good rain tyre but I would still prefer it to be dry."
McLaren, however, was disappointed. Coulthard, who said his day was "Okay," finished sixth, Raikkonen only ninth. "I did only a few timed laps this morning in the dry," said the Finn. "The circuit got quicker as the session went on so we will have to see what happens tomorrow. The car is not great in the wet."
Team boss Martin Whitmarsh said that the weather was largely to blame.
The other star, not for the first time this season, was Mark Webber, who pushed his Jaguar to an excellent third place on 1m 10.081s. "Mark did a stonking lap when the track was just getting damp," said team chief David Pitchforth. "That was excellent. Justin was just unlucky. We have one car at each end of the timesheets so we are in a good position if the weather is unpredictable again tomorrow."
Webber said that the rain had no effect at all. "It was the first time we had taken the fuel out of the car, so I am happy. The big question is how the car goes in race trim. We are not nearly as bad as we were in Monza. But we need a dry race." Justin Wilson had little to say. "Just one four letter word: Rain."
That came partway through the session, and ruined the day for Jenson Button and everyone below his 10th place on the timesheets. "The car had good balance but there was simply no grip when I did my qualifying run," the Englishman said, and he was one of the luckier ones.
So how will qualifying go tomorrow? That's as hard to predict as ever, especially as the indications today are that Michelin has produced a wet-weather tyre that is pretty effective. Pascal Vasselon said: "We were competitive in the rain as Cristiano da Matta's time shows."
Click here for the qualifying results in full.