Renault's Fernando Alonso claimed pole position in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix and Giancarlo Fisichella strengthened the French squad's position with second for a front row lock-out. Alonso's best time was 1:34.080 and Fisichella was...
Renault's Fernando Alonso claimed pole position in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix and Giancarlo Fisichella strengthened the French squad's position with second for a front row lock-out. Alonso's best time was 1:34.080 and Fisichella was just over three tenths behind. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest, less than a tenth off Fisichella.
It was clear and sunny for the session, with track and air temperatures in the early twenties. BAR's Takuma Sato, who was disqualified from Japan for causing an accident with Toyota's Jarno Trulli, was the first to run. For his last qualifying with BAR, Sato started the proceedings with a 1:37.083, which was some way off the practice times, although he did go a bit wide into the dust at turn three.
Next up was McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya, who got tangled up with the Sauber of Jacques Villenevue in Japan and crashed out. He posted a more reasonable 1:35.188 but locked up into the hairpin which lost him time. The track conditions were evidently difficult, as usual early on. It was the first qualifying at Shanghai for Toyota's Jarno Trulli and he went ahead of Sato, over eight tenths off Montoya.
Antonio Pizzonia, who was also a Japan retiree, put his Williams behind Trulli, over a second down on Montoya. Minardi's Christijan Albers got it wrong at the first corner and he couldn't make the time up, to finish four seconds off the pace. The Jordan of Narain Karthikeyan had a good lap and went ahead of Sato, while the second Minardi of Robert Doornbos couldn't beat Albers and posted seventh.
Tiago Monteiro also couldn't outdo his teammate and put his Jordan in between the Minardis, all three of them around four seconds off provisional pole. Jacques Villeneuve struggled with the Sauber and slotted into fifth behind Karthikeyan. Rubens Barrichello led out for Ferrari, his last qualifying with the team, and took second, just over four tenths down on Montoya.
Sauber's Felipe Massa, who will replace Barrichello at Ferrari next year, had a good lap to slot in behind his compatriot for provisional third. Christian Klien put his Red Bull in behind Pizzonia for sixth and the second Toyota of Ralf Schumacher took the third position off Massa. All were drama-free laps in the middle of the session, the track improving as time went on.
Michael Schumacher was next and the Ferrari ran wide at turn one but he picked up in the final sector to go ahead of Barrichello, just over a tenth off Montoya. David Coulthard's Red Bull was quite competitive in the morning practices and carried it through to clock third, splitting the Ferraris. A good effort by the Scot and the Red Bull team looked mightily pleased.
BAR's Jenson Button, who was unwell yesterday, evidently got over it as he posted fastest sectors all round the lap to take provisional pole with a 1:34.801, nearly four tenths quicker than Montoya. Mark Webber's Williams got a bit out of shape at turn six, then ran wide at the hairpin and posted seventh. Alonso was up on Button in all three sectors and finished seven tenths ahead, 1:34.080.
Giancarlo Fisichella was the penultimate runner and couldn't match teammate Alonso, but his lap was good enough for second, just over three tenths off. Japan winner Raikkonen was the last man out and had a couple of rather untidy moments; despite expectations the Finn couldn't beat the Renaults and slotted into third, less than a tenth behind Fisichella.
A front row-lock out is exactly what Renault was hoping for and it was a little bit of a surprise that they got it. Montoya being fifth was unsurprising due to his early run but Raikkonen could have interfered with the front row. Still, we'll have to wait and see what strategies play out and the McLaren pair are as much contenders for the victory as the Renaults.
"I don't think I can imagine where I could have found some more time," said Alonso. "I drove every corner as fast as I could and the car surprised me in every corner as to how good it was, so I was just getting more and more confident, corner after corner and did the best lap of the weekend so I was lucky because it was the important lap."
Fisichella was a little surprised with second. "I was struggling a little bit with the car balance yesterday and this morning," he commented. "Then we made a couple of changes for the qualifying session and I have to say it was better, definitely; and the first row for Renault is very good, very promising for tomorrow. We are fighting for the Constructors' Championship, and we are ready for this so we will do our best."
Raikkonen was not too concerned about not being on the front row. "The car was not exactly perfect but it has been very good all weekend," said the Finn. "We have a little bit of difficulty to get the tyres working on the straight but for sure in the race it is going to be good. I think we are going to be very strong in the race, so there is not much to worry about."
Button did a good job for fourth, although Montoya won't be pleased to have the BAR in front of him. Given the pace of the BAR in recent events it would seem a podium is the best Button can hope for. It's probably much the same for Michael and Barrichello in sixth and eight; Ferrari has shown a little more pace this weekend so far but, based on recent performances, they are not likely to be contenders for the win.
Coulthard did a good job for seventh, although Klien suffered down in 14th. Ralf ninth and Trulli 12th for Toyota is about average and a comparable story for Williams with Webber 10th and Pizzonia 13th. Massa ended up 11th and Villeneuve 16th, which seems a rather large gap between the teammates since there was only one car splitting their respective qualifying runs.
Karthikeyan finished a respectable 15th and Monteiro split the Minardis at the back. 17th was definitely not where Sato wanted to be for his finale. It was an interesting qualifying with an equally interesting result, with all sorts of possibilities for the race, so there's no point trying to make predictions. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Fisichella, Raikkonen, Button, Montoya, M. Schumacher, Coulthard, Barrichello.