Finn tops eventful qualifying session in Istanbul
If you were Michael Schumacher or Jacques Villeneuve in Turkey Saturday afternoon, or even Jenson Button or Takuma Sato, the redness in your face would not have been due to an ambient temperature close to 30 degrees Celsius but to mistakes which saw them all qualifying way below their real potential for Sunday's Grand Prix.
Maintaining the trend of practice, qualifying was a gripping session in which track conditions caught out those who strayed the wrong side of the thin line between caution and commitment.
Through it all, Kimi Raikkonen put in a flawless performance for McLaren to annex a comfortable pole position in 1m 26.797s, easing aside the Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard went out before the Italian, and conditions were improving all the time as the track picked up grip again after being reasonable in the morning. Alonso lapped in 1m 27.s, a time that Fisichella just beat subsequently with 1m 27.8;9s, despite encountering a slowing Rubens Barrichello in the final sector. These were critical performances by the Renault drivers, given the need to contain the McLaren challenge as much as possible. And given that fourth man out Juan Pablo Montoya had set the fastest time of 1m 27.8;2s until Alonso did his run.
Button should have featured in this fight, but having set the fastest first sector time the Englishman fell foul of the myriad bumps on this new circuit. Earlier team mate Takuma Sato had done something similar in Turn Eight, but even though Button was more circumspect there he too got caught out. He controlled the snap oversteer, but then entered Turn 1 on the wrong line and compounded the error. In the wobble of a BAR the chance of a front row position disappeared, and his eventual 1m 8;.68;s left him a bitterly frustrated 18;th, a place ahead of Sato whose own spoiled lap stopped the clocks in 1m 8;.17s. Within BAR, heads slipped into hands.
Thus the conditions favoured Toyota, thanks to their strong third and fourth place finishes in Hungary. Jarno Trulli did a better job than Ralf Schumacher, who missed an apex at Turn 9. The Italian was fifth on 1m 27.1s, the German ninth on 1m 28.94s.
Between them, the Williams duo and Felipe Massa inserted themselves into the gap. Nick Heidfeld was the faster of the Anglo-German team92;s runners but not by much, lapping in 1m 27.929s to Mark Webber92;s 1m 27.944s. Massa made no mistakes on his way to 1m 28.419s for Sauber, which bodes well for his future at Ferrari.
In 1th spot, Christian Klien was the second man out and shaded Red Bull team mate David Coulthard92;s 1m 29.764s with 1m 28.968;s, which would leave them ahead of Button and Sato. Barrichello then pushed between the Austrian and the Scot after lapping his Ferrari in 1m 29.8;69s. Next came Tiago Monteiro who had a relatively undramatic lap of 1m 8;.71s. The final man with a time was Christijan Albers, who pushed his Minardi round in 1m 8;2.186s.
The rest had tales of misfortune to tell. Despite struggling for grip Michael Schumacher made it neatly through Turn 8 where the Ferrari was particularly having difficulty this morning, but then dropped it going into Turn 9. Result, P17. Behind him came Villeneuve, who was out when the track was at its worst, but pushed a little too hard in Turn 8 after surprising himself with his speed in the first sector. No lap time for him, either, after he was forced to abandon his stalled Sauber. Narain Karthikeyan92;s unhappy day continued. After two engine changes this morning he managed his out lap but pitted at the end of it as planned having just checked out the third unit. Robert Doornbos had brake problems, and his Minardi came to a smoking, flaming halt in the pit entry.
The final grid may yet change, however. After getting in Webber92;s way on his in lap, Sato is due before the stewards later this afternoon and may get put to the back. Apparently he was thumbing open the transmit button on his radio, so the team could not warn him to move off the fast line.