Mixed fortunes for Renault as Ferrari take P2 and 3
After Ferraris speed this morning Renault pulled out all the stops for qualifying. Though there was disappointment as Giancarlo Fisichella failed to make it through to the final session for the second race in succession, Fernando Alonso grabbed pole position from right under Michael Schumachers nose.
The Ferrari driver was a tenth faster than the Spaniard in the first sector, and in the third sector they were equal, but in the middle Alonso just managed to eke out an advantage to stop the clocks in 1m 29.819s, the fastest time of the weekend. That may suggest that Renault were running lighter than usual - surely a sign of how competitive Ferrari are.
It was not easy to find a balance this morning, ; Alonso said, but we did a good job overnight and it seemed to work okay. Qualifying is always stressful and difficult, a matter of not making any mistakes otherwise you are out. Qualifying Three all worked fine for us, no problems, no traffic, the opposite to the last four qualifyings! ;
Schumachers response was 1m 30.028s, a fraction slower than his 1m 30.103s best from the second session. The first run wasnt that clear, traffic or preparation-wise, ; he said, and neither was the second, but nevertheless we are on the first row and have a strong package and race pace, so it should be interesting tomorrow. ;
Felipe Massa backed up his Ferrari team leader with a strong third-place performance, with 1m 30.07s, and that was easily enough to keep ahead of Rubens Barrichello who pushed his Honda round in 1m 30.75s. That in turn beat Kimi Raikkonens 1m 30.933s, though based on recent showings the Honda was most likely running with a low fuel load whereas the McLaren most likely was running a decent fuel load. Time will tell.
Jenson Button was sixth on 1m 30.90s in the second Honda, then came Toyotas Jarno Trulli who finally turned round what has been a bad weekend so far with seventh fastest time of 1m 31.19s. Jacques Villeneuve got through the first session when race officials ruled that a timing problem (caused when a red flag sign was shown and then immediately rescinded, upsetting the initially published order and leaving the French-Canadian excluded in 21st place) should be overruled. He made the most of his second chance to take eighth place for BMW Sauber on 1m 31.52s.
Juan Pablo Montoya was probably running with a good fuel load on his way to 1m 31.880s for McLaren, while Mark Webber survived a brief fuel filler fire to take 10th place on 1m 33.05s. However, both the Australian and his partner Nico Rosberg (12th on 1m 31.19s) needed Cosworth engine changes after morning practice, so each will lose 10 grid places. That leaves Webber 20th, and Rosberg 22nd.
Ralf Schumacher spun on his first lap of the second session, and though he later cut down to 1m 30.9s then, it would not be enough. He will start 11th ahead of an unhappy Giancarlo Fisichella on 1m 31.197s. The Italian accused Villeneuve of blocking him in that second session, and stalked down to the BMW Sauber pit to make his feelings known.
It was not a great day for Red Bull. David Coulthard will start 13th on 1m 31.227s, ahead of BMW Saubers Nick Heidfeld (1m 31.22s) and Toro Rossos Tonio Liuzzi (1m 31.728s), while Christian Klien was stuck in 17th on 1m 32. 901s after the red flag confusion. Christijan Albers (1m 32.936s) took 18th for Midland, ahead of Toro Rossos Scott Speed (1m 32.992s) and the Super Aguris of Takuma Sato (1m 35.239s) and Grand Prix debutant Franck Montagny (who registered only 1m 6.505s after spinning on his sole lap of the first session).
So Alonso will start the race from the front row for the first time this year - an extraordinary statistic given his championship lead - and he was very happy about that. Its going to be an interesting race and well see what happens, ; he said. We have good race pace, so do they [Ferrari] in long runs, so hopefully it will be close and I hope to fight for the victory. It seems we are there again, competitive. ;
With Schumacher feeling very confident (though seeming a trifle subdued) a great race is in prospect.