Alonso heads Renault front row for Chinese GP

Alonso heads Renault front row for Chinese GP

Renault locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix with Fernando Alonso claiming pole position. In wet conditions the defending champion set a best time of 1:44.360, just over six tenths up on teammate Giancarlo...

Renault locked out the front row of the grid in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix with Fernando Alonso claiming pole position. In wet conditions the defending champion set a best time of 1:44.360, just over six tenths up on teammate Giancarlo Fisichella. The Hondas of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button took the second row with third and fourth respectively.

Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

It was raining at the start of the first 15 minute session, with both track and air temperatures in the low twenties, and the track was officially declared wet. Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Super Aguri's Takuma Sato will both suffer the 10 place grid demotion penalties due to engine changes prior to qualifying.

The cars were quickly out on track and the McLaren of Kimi Raikkonen was first on the time sheet, 1:46.048. Button and Sato followed on behind, then the second Honda of Barrichello. Nico Rosberg's Williams and the Toro Rossos of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed were early top 10 runners, as were the Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Robert Doornbos.

Alonso's Renault was next to the top, 1:44.128, followed by Fisichella into second. Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber took seventh and teammate Robert Kubica ninth then Pedro de la Rosa's McLaren slotted into third. Outside the top 10 were the Spyker MF1s of Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers and the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli.

Liuzzi improved to fourth and there were one or two spinners in the wet conditions but nothing too serious. The Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Massa started with 12th and 13th and Super Aguri's Sakon Yamamoto was just getting going when the session was red flagged due to Monteiro's car stopping in the first sector.

It took a short while for the Spyker MF1 to be cleared and there were just three minutes remaining when the track went green. There was a rush as nearly everyone outside the top five -- Alonso, Fisichella, de la Rosa, Raikkonen and Liuzzi -- went back out to try and improve. With only time for one lap, there was scant change in the order.

Toyota was the biggest loser, both Ralf and Trulli, 17th and 18th, being dropped. Spyker MF1 and Super Aguri also lost both cars, Albers and Monteiro 19th and 20th and Sato and Yamamoto 21st and 22nd. Alonso's 1:44.128 remained fastest, a couple of tenths up on Fisichella, and there were no Bridgestone runners in the top 10.

The times were cleared for the second session and Coulthard was first out. The rain had eased slightly but the track was still wet and Liuzzi had a spin but continued. Coulthard posted 1:50.428 to start then Webber took over by about four tenths. Button was next up, 1:47.244, then Michael and Massa in quick succession, the latter's time 1:46.882.

Speed had a spin and just touched the barriers but managed to get back to the pits. Heidfeld took third and Barrichello fifth then de la Rosa went to the top, 1:46.783. Liuzzi, Webber and Rosberg were trading the lower positions of the top 10 and Button returned to the top spot with a 1:45.952. Alonso had a spin but continued, as did Fisichella after visiting the gravel.

Alonso posted 10th on his recovery, and Fisichella 14th, and Coutlhard jumped up to second after being moved down the order. Alonso was on a flyer and did fastest sectors all 'round to clock 1:44.123 and Fisichella followed into second. Raikkonen took seventh and Speed ninth when he returned to the track after his spin.

Barrichello visited the gravel but escaped and Raikkonen improved to fifth, with de la Rosa one behind. In the closing minute Kubica took 10th but was precarious and teammate Heidfeld moved up to a safer sixth. Speed went back to ninth but Massa only managed 11th, while Michael only just scraped through into eighth and Kubica, who had fallen, returned to take seventh.

Kubica's improvement dropped Speed to 11th and he led the next list of six to depart. Behind him came Coulthard, Massa, who will drop 10 places, Liuzzi, Webber and Rosberg. Doornbos did well to make the top 10 in his first qualifying for Red Bull. Alonso's 1:43.951 held the top from Fisichella, Button and Heidfeld.

The times were cleared for the last session and the cars headed out with race fuel on board. The Renaults were first out, followed by the McLarens, and there was the usual period of burning off fuel ready for flying laps. De la Rosa led the way, 1:46.494 to start with, with Kubica, Button and Alonso next in line.

Fisichella made his first visit to the pits quite early, while Alonso, 1:45.348, and Heidfeld took over at the top, and Raikkonen somehow managed to lose one of his wing mirrors. With five minutes to go the rest started peeling into the pits for tyre changes and Button had a nose cone change, possibly some damage from running over Raikkonen's mirror.

Barrichello and de la Rosa both went out on flier but neither beat Alonso's previous time, then the Spaniard went out and clocked 1:44.360 with fastest sectors across the board. Fisichella took second and it was a rather subdued last couple of minutes in which the Hondas clocked identical times. As Barrichello set his first he will start third and Button fourth.

Alonso was happy but cautious about the race. "I think we have to be careful what happens tomorrow," he commented. "The points are normally for Sunday afternoon. Saturday is good and we approach the race with a lot of confidence, in a strong position, dry or wet, so I think we are very happy with the result today, but of course we have to finish the job tomorrow."

Fisichella explained the circuit conditions: "In Q1, the first couple of minutes was wet, but then it was raining quite heavily and after that it was a bit dangerous. Q2 was one of the worst moments. There was some aquaplaning, especially in the first couple of laps. Then the circuit was getting better and better and even in Q3, just at the end, the circuit was better."

Traffic was also a problem. "There were a lot of cars and sometimes you get out of the pits and you don't see a blue flag anywhere in front of somebody and the same happened to me so many times and there were people getting out and there was traffic all the time," said Barrichello. "The team was good and we were lucky to get the times at the right time and in 'quali' three I was able to set a quick time straightaway and that put me into the first two rows."

Raikkonen and Michael will go from row three with de la Rosa and Heidfeld behind. Kubica and Doornbos complete the line up. Naturally it looks good for Renault with both cars on the front row and one could reasonably expect the team and Alonso to claw back some points from Ferrari and Michael on Sunday.

Michael was the only Bridgestone runner to make the top 10 and will presumably be hoping for a dry race. The McLarens and Hondas should come into play as well and with the unsettled weather, it looks set to be an interesting afternoon tomorrow. Final top ten classification: Alonso, Fisichella, Barrichello, Button, Raikkonen, M. Schumacher, de la Rosa, Heidfeld, Kubica, Doornbos.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Ralf Schumacher , Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Christijan Albers , Felipe Massa , Tiago Monteiro , Robert Doornbos , Scott Speed , Nico Rosberg
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Toro Rosso , Williams