Spaniard in stunning form as key rival falters
McLaren were expected by many to take pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix, but the man who will start at the front tomorrow is championship leader Fernando Alonso.
The Spaniard came here needing only six points for a third place finish to cement his title, but is determined to win from the front if he can. It showed.
Juan Pablo Montoya started the session as seventh man on track and quickly worked down to 1m 12.145s to supplant early pacesetter Giancarlo Fisichella, who had been the first to run after retiring from the Belgian Grand Prix after only 10 laps. The Italian managed 1m 12.558s but thereafter Montoya was in charge until Alonso went out as the penultimate runner. He pushed his Renault round in 1m 11.988s, and Kimi Raikkonens response was eagerly awaited. Going into the Senna S, the first corner, the Finn pushed too hard and immediately lost the better part of half a second as his McLaren understeered wide. The lap ruined, he had to settle for fifth place on the grid with 1m 12.781s.
It was a dramatic development that sets up a fantastic potential title climax tomorrow.
Fisichellas time remained good enough for third, and Jenson Button will start fourth after a clean lap of 1m 12.696s in his BAR.
Alongside Raikkonen, Christian Klien is clearly on an early refuelling strategy after talking his Red Bull round in 1m 12.889s for sixth place. Michael Schumacher was seventh for Ferrari in 1m 12.976s, and then Jarno Trulli was eighth on 1m 13.041s for Toyota. However, he drops 10 grid places after his TF105 required a rare engine change this morning.
Felipe Massa was ninth on 1m 13.151s, complaining of understeer that sapped a couple of tenths from his lap time in the Sauber C24, then came Rubens Barrichello in the second Ferrari on 1m 13.183s. Ralf Schumacher was 11th on 1m 13.285s, while Jacques Villeneuve was very happy with 1m 13.372s as he is one of several drivers thought to be on a single-stop strategy in the second Sauber.
Tiago Monteiro surprised a few people with 1m 13.387s in a light Jordan EJ15B, while Mark Webber is another likely single stopper, together with Williams partner Antonio Pizzonia. They lapped in 1m 13.538s and 1m 13.581s respectively.
David Coulthard is obviously on a different strategy to Red Bull team mate Klien, as evidenced by his lap of 1m 13.844s which left him 16th.
At the back, Narain Karthikeyan lapped his Jordan in 1m 14.520s and can be assumed to stopping later than Monteiro, while Christijan Albers had a twitchy run to 1m 14.763s in his Minardi. Team mate Robert Doornbos spun his equally oversteery PS05 in Turn 12 and will start at the back with Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver did just an installation lap in his BAR; he in any case had the 10 grid place penalty levied by the stewards in Belgium, but to add to that had an engine change too.
Taking into account Trullis penalty, the grid will read: Alonso and Montoya; Fisichella and Button; Raikkonen and Klien; Schumacher Snr and Massa; Barrichello and Schumacher Jnr; Villeneuve and Monteiro; Webber and Pizzonia; Coulthard and Karthikeyan; Albers and Trulli; Sato and Doornbos.
A great race is in prospect.