Thrilling qualifying in prospect 11 Sep 2004
Barrichello just ahead in final practice at Monza
With the fastest eight drivers covered by a mere 0.366s, and the next five similarly spaced, the indications are that qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix could be the closest of the season. Certainly, the individual strategies that the teams choose this afternoon will be even more critical in deciding grid placings.
Michael Schumacher has said on several occasions this weekend that he expects a tough time, and his expression was reflective after Rubens Barrichello, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Takuma Sato and Kimi Raikkonen lapped faster than him this morning, even if they did not breach the 1m 20.526s, 160 mph/259 kph lap he recorded on Friday morning.
Barrichello came closest with 1m 20.555s after a couple of spins, edging out Juan Pablo Montoyas 1m 20.653s for Williams. Button was right there on 1m 20.734s for BAR, who also had Sato on 1m 20.805s. Alonso looked strong with 1m 20.773s, as did Raikkonen on 1m 20.856s. Several pundits fancy the Finn to repeat his Spa success tomorrow afternoon. Antonio Pizzonia continued his speedy form with 1m 20.921s in the second Williams.
David Coulthard was another chicane spinner on his way to 1m 21.058s for McLaren, comfortably ahead of Jarno Trulli on 1m 21.506s, Felipe Massa on 1m 21.859s, Olivier Panis on 1m 21.889s and Giancarlo Fisichella on 1m 21.929s. Ricardo Zonta, Christian Klien and Mark Webber all ran in the 1m 22s bracket, with respective times of 1m 22.114s, 1m 22.230s and 1m 22.490s.
The only other timed runners were Nick Heidfeld, with 1m 23.146s for Jordan, and Gianmari Bruni on 1m 23.794s for Jordan. Thats because the unfortunate Zsolt Baumgartner was the innocent victim of attack by an errant competitor for the second meeting in a row. At Spa it was Jenson Button, whose BAR suffered a tyre failure. This time it was Giorgio Pantano who slid into him after something caused the rear end of his Jordan to lock up as they went into the first chicane on their first flying laps of the second session. The yellow car clobbered the black one as the Hungarian turned into the first part of the chicane, and while neither driver was harmed each had to sit out the rest of the session as their cars were damaged.
There was the usual rash of missed chicanes in both sessions, but they were otherwise incident free. Now we await qualifying with great interest, and it is by no means certain that the red cars will lock up the front row on their home ground.