Final qualifying - Raikkonen pounces for pole 27 Sep 2003
Qualifying pace these days is of course dictated by fuel load. And after today's session the speculation was that Ferrari's race strategy was to give Michael Schumacher a heavy load of fuel and Rubens Barrichello a light load, so the Brazilian could set pole position and dictate the initial pace so that Schumacher's rivals could not break away in the opening laps. But Kimi Raikkonen may just have upset that thinking as he took his second pole position of his Formula One career.
The Finn's performance was a big surprise, as he did limited running yesterday because of the conditions and missed half of this morning's practice altogether. His lap of 1m 11.670s displaced a nonetheless delighted Olivier Panis who had earlier pushed his Toyota to 1m 11.920s. "I was unlucky yesterday," the Frenchman said, "but today has been good. Straight away I knew it had been a great lap."
Great enough to resist the efforts of Michael Schumacher (a disappointing 1m 12.194s), Fernando Alonso (1m 12.087s) and David Coulthard (1m 12.297s). Montoya seemed on target to displace both of them when he set the fastest sector one time, but then his Williams began to understeer in the remaining two and he only managed 1m 11.948s. That left Ralf Schumacher, but he had lost too much time with his morning accident and could only muster 1m 12.078s, and then Mark Webber was too ragged in the Jaguar to repeat yesterday's third place. The Australian recorded a disappointing 1m 13.269s, which would leave him 14th.
So it was going to be down to Barrichello and Jarno Trulli. The Brazilian immediately set the fastest sector one time, but a small slide in the second robbed him of the pace he needed, and though he beat Panis his 1m 11.794s came up short. Raikkonen had the pole, provided Trulli could not go quicker. He couldn't. The Italian had shunted his Renault right at the end of the pre-session warm-up, and it was not quite as sharp as it had been previously when it set much of the weekend's pace. His 1m 12.566s was a major disappointment and left him a desolate 10th overall.
Behind them, Jenson Button again out-qualified Jacques Villeneuve, the BARs struggling like the Saubers in 13th and 15th positions (Heidfeld and Frentzen) with lack of grip and tyre graining. Justin Wilson again found his Jaguar a handful with poor balance, and Fisichella and Firman in the Jordans comfortably outpaced the Minardis of Verstappen and Kiesa.
Pole position could be critical for McLaren, the title outsider. "The car wasn't very good this morning, but we managed to improve it thanks to a lot of hard work by the team," Raikkonen said. "We are in a good position, but we have to wait and see what happens."
Barrichello said he had had to guestimate his Ferrari's set-up to an extent, but that he was happy enough with it, but Schumacher, down in seventh place when the dust had settled, was less cheerful. "I don't know why we lacked grip," he mused. "I made a mistake in the first sector but that didn't hurt the time much. I lost all my time in the second sector."
Montoya is optimistic for the race. "We have a lot of power and so we will be quick down the straight," the Colombian said. But like everyone else, he isn't completely sure what tomorrow will bring. "The only thing I know is that Kimi's performance is not a surprise," he added. "He is always good for a surprise."
The United States Grand Prix has an exciting grid and will be unpredictable. In short, the countdown to the title decider will be a gripper. "It's a tyre race," McLaren's Ron Dennis said. "And you should never underestimate Ferrari."
Click here for the qualifying results in full.