The Finn flies at last to put McLaren ahead at home
He has been on the pace all weekend, and just to prove once and for all that McLarens dramatic turnaround in fortune has not been a fluke, the Finn pushed his way to his third-ever pole position at Silverstone on Saturday.
It proved to be a gripping session, after a farcical, and much criticised, pre-qualifying in which fears about possible rain meant that everyone was going slowly in order to run early in qualifying just in case. The order was thus a little unusual, with Nick Heidfeld kicking things off followed by Christian Klien, Mark Webber and Marc Gene. Giancarlo Fisichella should have run second, but Sauber elected to take a bye as their man would in any case get a 10 grid place penalty for his engine change yesterday. He will start at the back.
Then came Juan Pablo Montoya, Michael Schumacher (who had spun yet again in pre-qualifying his third off of the day), Takuma Sato, Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard. Schumachers 1m 18.710s easily beat Montoyas 1m 19.378s, Sato came up short with 1m 19.688s, but then Barrichello seized the initiative with 1m 18.305s. Coulthard could not better that and had to settle for 1m 19.148s which would leave him seventh.
Next out were the Minardis of Zsolt Baumgartner and Gianmaria Bruni, leading to agonising moments as the clouds grew darker and they did their laps (1m 24.117s and 1m 23.437s respectively). Cristiano da Matta managed 1m 20.545s, then came Fernando Alonso and Raikkonen. The Spaniards Renault needed an engine change after practice this morning, so he was in any case destined to lose 10 places on the grid from his eventual 1m 18.811s, but the Finn had no such worries and his 1m 18.233s slipped beneath Barrichellos best. It was confirmation that McLaren are back in the ballpark.
Now fastest pre-qualifier Jenson Buttons worries increased, as the skies darkened further and he had to wait for Jarno Trulli, Giorgio Pantano, Olivier Panis and Felipe Massa to do their runs. Trulli recorded 1m 18.715s which would leave him fifth; Pantano 1m 22.458s (just ahead of Heidfelds 1m 22.677s); and Panis 1m 20.335s which should have left him 11th. However, the Frenchman inexplicably impeded Massas ensuing lap, blocking him halfway round it and costing him a likely top 10 slot. The angry Brazilians 1m 20.202s left him 10th behind Webber (1m 20.004s), but Paniss time was subsequently deleted by the stewards because of his behaviour.
That set the scene for Button to go out, to the accompaniment of the fans air horns and cheers, but he couldnt quite summon front row pace and had to settle for third place with 1m 18.580s.
The grid is thus: Raikkonen and Barrichello; Button and Schumacher; Trulli and Coulthard; Montoya and Sato; Webber and Massa; Gene and da Matta; Klien and Pantano; Alonso and Heidfeld; Bruni and Baumgartner; Panis and Fisichella.
And a great British Grand Prix is in prospect.