Button scores maiden pole position 24 Apr 2004
Jenson Button outguns Ferrari's Michael Schumacher to give BAR P1 on Imola grid. Juan Pablo Montoya takes third for Williams.
He's been threatening to do it for a few races now, and in Imola this afternoon Jenson Button achieved the breakthrough and scored both his and BARs first pole position with some excellent driving that put sufficient pressure on Ferrari that Michael Schumacher made an error when it mattered most.
After his strong performance this morning Button was 'only' fifth fastest in pre-qualifying, but when it really mattered the 24 year-old Englishman was right on the pace, shoving Rubens Barrichello aside to snatch pole with a lap of 1m 19.753s. That was even faster than Juan Pablo Montoya's best from pre-qualifying (1m19.805s), and the fastest of the weekend. It made Barrichello's 1m 20.425s seem pedestrian, though of course we must await the race to see precisely what respective fuel loads the cars were carrying.
David Coulthard, the Schumacher brothers and Montoya all ran after Button. Coulthard, as expected, did not have the pace to do better than 1m 21.091s, good enough for 11th on the grid for McLaren. Ralf did 1m 20.538s for fifth, and then came Michael. The world champion dipped below Button's time in the first sector and was on for pole, but then he ran too wide on the exit of the tricky Variante Alta, where most of this weekend's driver problems have occurred, and the time lost proved critical. He managed 1m 20.011s, and Jean Todt's face looked thunderous.
Now only Montoya could depose Button, but the Colombian also came up short. Nevertheless, his 1m 20.212s was enough to push Barrichello over the second row.
Now, of course, the race will show just how accurate a picture qualifying painted of their respective strengths. None of that bothered either BAR team principal David Richards, or Button.
"They key to the lap was not to push the tyres too hard through the last two sectors," Button said. It's tremendous for the team and for me. And the best thing about starting from pole is that there isn't anything in front of me! It's been a while since I've had that. What I did in the first two sectors was absolutely the best I could do, and now I absolutely can't wait for the race!"
Both of his main rivals were also open-mouthed and magnanimous. "I really had to push," Schumacher admitted, "when Jenson set me that target. I thought I had it covered. He did a brilliant lap!"
Montoya said that when he saw Button's time, he was amazed. "I thought 'where did that come from?' It was a very good lap."
The performance was further proof of BAR's growing challenge, although there was less joy for Takuma Sato who lines up seventh on 1m 20.913s, right behind Fernando Alonso's Renault which the Spaniard wheeled to 1m 20.895s. Jarno Trulli lost the advantage he seemed to have over his team mate for much of the weekend, and is ninth on 1m 21.034s, beaten by Mark Webber who placed the Jaguar eighth on 1m 20.921s.
Cristiano da Matta rose to the occasion for Toyota to claim the final top 10 position with 1m 21.087s, and after Coulthard came Felipe Massa in the leading Sauber on 1m 21.532s. His team mate Giancarlo Fisichella was very quick with low fuel in pre-qualifying, but would in any case have been penalised a second on his eventual qualifying time after speeding under yellow flags in practice. That all became academic when a third gear failure on his pre-qualifying in lap prevented him getting out at all in qualifying.
The session was also a disaster for Kimi Raikkonen, who aborted his attempt and stalked white-faced to the motorhome cursing the need for yet another engine change.
Of the rest, Toyotas Olivier Panis outpaced Christian Klien, who drove smoothly to lap a second off Jaguar team mate Webber, while Giorgio Pantano was delighted to out-qualify Jordan team-mate Nick Heidfeld for the first time on his home ground. Minardis Gianmaria Bruni was 17th, ahead of partner Zsolt Baumgartner, who became another victim of Variante Alta.
So, a BAR are on pole, with a Williams splitting the two Ferraris. We could be in for the best race so far this season.