Trulli untouchable around the Monte Carlo streets
Renault's Jarno Trulli scored the first pole position of his Formula One career in Monaco on Saturday, while Michael Schumacher could manage no better than fourth on the grid.
No disrespect to Schumacher and Ferrari, but the world champions place on the second row of the grid for tomorrows Monaco Grand Prix is great news for Formula One fans.
After Trulli grabbed pole position for Renault and held it against great attack, the accession of Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso to second and third places respectively has forced Schumacher into a position where he will have to fight through from fourth slot if he is to equal Ayrton Sennas long-standing record of six victories in the Principality.
This was a gripping qualifying session, with Gianmaria Bruni, Zsolt Baumgartner, Giorgio Pantano, Nick Heidfeld, Christian Klien, Mark Webber and Michael Schumacher successively deposing one another as polesitter. The champion had run with a reasonable fuel load when he went out first in pre-qualifying, and lapped in 1m 15.927s. That was immediately beaten by Rubens Barrichello with 1m 15.329s, and Schumacher was ultimately the seventh driver out in qualifying as a result. He also ran when the track was at its hottest (48 degrees Celsius), and posted a smooth 1m 14.516s lap, his only problem some slight understeer in the hairpin. Barrichello ran 10th, and lapped in 1m 14.716s, so that by the halfway point of the session Ferrari had the front row sewn up.
2003 winner Juan Pablo Montoyas effort came up short, with 1m 15.039s which left him an eventual 10th. Then Trulli, running in 43 degree track temperature, banged in his 1m 13.985s best, the fastest lap ever of Monaco and the only one to dip below 1m 14s. It was an excellent effort.
BARs Takuma Sato seemed on target to better it when he set the fastest sector one time, but then a left front wheel lock-up and resultant oversteer going into the chicane ruined the Japanese drivers lap and left him a disappointed eighth overall on 1m 14.827s. Fernando Alonso, too, failed to dislodge Trulli, but his 1m 14.408s lap made it temporarily an all-Renault front row.
Saubers Giancarlo Fisichella had gone well for fifth place in pre-qualifying, and lapped in 1m 15.352s, which left him 11th until Ralf Schumacher grid-place penalty was taken into account.
Then came Jenson Button. He too got below Trullis first sector time, but fell short thereafter. Nevertheless, his 1m 14.396s was good enough to secure the other front-row starting slot.
The McLarens of David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen were next, after going strongly in pre-qualifying. Coulthard managed 1m 14.951s which left him ninth, Raikkonen 1m 14.592s for sixth. It was a welcome upturn of fortune for the silver cars.
Finally, out came Ralf Schumacher, whose 1m 14.483s had been the best pre-qualifying time. Now he sliced down to 1m 14.345s, outpacing Montoya for the first time this season, but once his penalty was applied (for his BMW engine change on Thursday), he dropped back to 12th place.
That was one behind Webber, who lost yet more time with another fire this morning after an hydraulic pipe blew off, and reckoned a further second was still locked in the Jaguar R5. Rather than change the engine, the team actually changed the chassis, so he did a good job in the trying circumstances. His best was 1m 15.725s, while Klien did 1m 15.919s. They thus sandwiched Olivier Paniss Toyota (1m 15.859s and had Cristiano da Mattas sister car right behind on 1m 16.169s.
With a gripless Felipe Massa 16th on 1m 16.248s for Sauber, Heidfeld won the Jordan qualifying battle with Pantano, 1m 16.488s to 1m 17.443s. Baumgartner beat Bruni this time, the Minardis very closely matched on 1m 20.060s and 1m 20.115s.
Now we have to wait and see not just who has what fuel load, but also how the tyre offerings from Bridgestone and Michelin work under race conditions. However you look at it, a great race is in prospect.