Trulli almost upsets the form book at Sepang
Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella were expected to be close to the head of the field during qualifying this afternoon, but even after his performance in practice this morning few expected Jarno Trulli and Toyota to be quite so strong.
First runner Anthony Davidson set the ball rolling with 1m 34.866s, which was not bettered until Ralf Schumacher pushed his Toyota to 1m 33.106s, but when Trulli took his turn the Italian lowered that to 1m 32.672s and nobody else came even close to that until Alonso, the third to last man out, banged in his lap of 1m 32.582s to take the overnight pole position. Giancarlo Fisichella lapped in 1m 32.765s to take the third slot, while Kimi Raikkonen in the McLaren pushed Ralf down to fifth overall after a lap of 1m 32.839s.
Conditions were boiling as the track temperature reached as much as 53 degrees Celsius, but unlike Melbourne were consistent all the way through. That means tomorrow mornings final session will be much more relevant than it was in Australia.
Mark Webber put in a smooth 1m 33.204s lap to jump up to sixth place, pushing Juan Pablo Montoya (1m 33.333s) and his own Williams team mate Nick Heidfeld (1m 33.464s) down a place apiece. Heidfeld incidentally, received an apology from Michael Schumacher in yesterdays drivers meeting, after their peers voted 19 to 1 that their clash in Melbourne had been the champions fault.
There was good news for Jenson Button, after Honda worked to rectify an oil leak on his original engine which, though removed for repairs, did not actually require changing. That means he does not have to lose 10 grid places after all, and he was reasonably content with ninth overall on 1m 33.616s. The final top 10 runner was Christian Klien, who took his Red Bull round in 1m 33.724s to pip team mate David Coulthard. The Scots best was 1m 33.809s. Both he and the Austrian thought they should have gone quicker, but each made small errors.
Not for the first time this weekend, it has taken a while to get to the position of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. The champion looked good early this morning but appeared to be struggling on his way to 1m 34.072s for 12th in the line-up, and the fact that team-mate Rubens Barrichello was only 14th on 1m 34.162s was further indication that Ferrari and Bridgestone have work to do, even allowing for this being the old car. They expect to be stronger in race conditions, but do not believe that the final qualifying will do much to improve their grid positions. So it will be an even more difficult race for the red cars.
Felipe Massa, fastest yesterday, was disappointed to finish 13th on 1m 34.151s, complaining of pure lack of speed, though his partner Jacques Villeneuve was a lot happier with his cars set-up after suspension adjustments completed after the morning practice sessions. The former champion lapped in 1m 34.887s for 16th place.
On his 2005 debut Davidsons 1m 34.866s left him 15th overall, the Briton feeling he had been a little conservative on his run.
The see-saw fight between the Jordan duo went Narain Karthikeyans way when the Indian pushed his EJ15 to 1m 37.806s, but as usual team mate Tiago Monteiro was right with him with 1m 37.856s.
This time Patrick Friesacher was clear of Christijan Albers at Minardi, the Austrian recording 1m 39.268s to the Dutchmans 1m 40.432s.
So, after all the confusion of practice, a pattern has started to emerge, with the real surprise being the sheer pace of the Toyotas. Renault remain the top dog, but it is close so far, and McLaren are beginning to show their real form. Tomorrows qualifying session will have a crucial effect on the grid, and with track temperatures of up to 60 degrees predicted, the race is going to be a scorcher.