Red cars run riot as Renault struggle to stay in touch
Ferrari, as expected, annexed the front row of the grid at Suzuka for Sundays Japanese Grand Prix, with Felipe Massa just edging out Michael Schumacher to take the second pole position of his career, with 1m 29.99s to the Germans 1m 29.711s.
The presence of the two Toyotas on the second row was perhaps an indication of the Japanese team's habitual strategy on home ground, but also endorsed the superiority of Bridgestones tyre. Ralf Schumacher just beat Jarno Trulli, 1m 29.989s to 1m 30.034s. In both cases the gaps between the team mates may be a reflection that one has to run a lap longer than the other in the race.
Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella both closed the gap to Ferrari with sterling efforts for Renault, but 1m 30.371s and 1m 30.99s left them only fifth and sixth with a mountain to climb in the race. And as the animals came in two-by-two, Jenson Button took seventh for Honda with 1m 30.992s, ahead of Rubens Barrichello on 1m 31.478s.
Nick Heidfeld made it through from Q2 for BMW Sauber, taking ninth place with 1m 31.13s ahead of Nico Rosberg, who made full use of the Bridgestone-shod Williams-Cosworth package to complete the top 10 on 1m 31.86s.
Kimi Raikkonens chances of getting into Q3 evaporated when he slid wide in the Spoon Curve, leaving him 11th for McLaren on 1m 30.827s ahead of Robert Kubica, who likewise lost out in his BMW Sauber after nearly brushing the bridge wall on the exit to Degner 2. The Pole lapped in 1m 31.094s. Pedro de la Rosa failed to get his McLaren through to the final session, stopping the clocks in 1m 31.24s which was just enough to stay ahead of Williams Mark Webber, who was another to survive a scare at Degner 2. The Australian thus relied on 1m 31.276s for 14th.
Tonio Liuzzi did a fine job as the only one of Red Bulls four drivers to get through Q1, and pushed his Toro Rosso to 1m 31.943s. Christijan Albers had also made it through Q1 for Spyker MF1, and will line up 16th on 1m 33.70s.
Interestingly, the fastest man in that second session was M Schumacher, in 1m 28.94s. There is so much grip and they fly through the Esses! the former champion said. Its funny when you think we are running V8s engines.
David Coulthard was the first of the Q1 failures on 1m 32.22s for Red Bull, with team mate Robert Doornbos right behind on 1m 32.402s. Scott Speed was next up on 1m 32.867s, after an off in Spoon Curve in the Toro Rosso. Takuma Sato beat Tiago Monteiro, Super Aguri versus Spyker MF1, with 1m 33.666s to 1m 33.709s, while Sakon Yamamoto failed to get a time after setting the fastest sector one time and then half spinning and stalling his Super Aguri at Spoon.
So Ferrari start just where they wanted, and with Renault where theyd have liked them to be. Having Alonso behind me is more important than being behind my team mate, Schumacher grinned, a man who knows that he might just clinch a record eighth world championship title on Sunday, if things keep going his way.