Fernando Alonso led the way for Renault in Saturday's first qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix with a best time of 1:32.582, just nine hundredths of a second ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Giancarlo Fisichella strengthened Renault's...
Fernando Alonso led the way for Renault in Saturday's first qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix with a best time of 1:32.582, just nine hundredths of a second ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Giancarlo Fisichella strengthened Renault's challenge with third fastest in what was a closely contested fight for the front row.
The track temperature was around 50 degrees as BAR's Anthony Davidson, standing in for the unwell Takuma Sato, came out for the first lap. The Englishman, who previously competed in two races for Minardi in 2002, is using the engine that Sato started the weekend with and clocked 1:34.866.
Christijan Albers, who was the first of the retirees in Melbourne, followed on and the Minardi was over five seconds down. Williams' Nick Heidfeld bettered Davidson by 1.4 seconds to post 1:33.464 and next up was Michael Schumacher. The Ferrari couldn't outdo Heidfeld and was six tenths down.
Minardi's Patrick Friesacher, who was the last man to take the chequered flag in Melbourne, went one place better than Albers by over a second. Tiago Monterio was the first Jordan on track and went ahead of the Minardis, as did his teammate Narain Karthikeyan, who was slightly quicker.
Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve was on a par with Heidfeld in the first sector but lost out in the middle and finished fourth, fractionally behind Davidson. Toyota's pace from the morning practices held up enough for Ralf Schumacher to take provisional pole with a 1:33.106, three tenths up on Heidfeld.
It was thought that Jenson Button may have needed an engine change after missing the last practice but BAR said they had only worked on his engine to fix an oil leak. Button posted third, half a second off Ralf's time but over a second up on Davidson.
The second Sauber of Felipe Massa started well then lost ground in the middle sector, but it was enough for fifth behind Michael. Trulli, who was fastest this morning, put in a good lap to take the top slot from teammate Ralf with a 1:32.672. An impressive performance from Toyota.
Kimi Raikkonen was the first McLaren out and split the Toyotas with second, a tenth and a half off Trulli. Red Bull's Christian Klien had a fairly good lap to go ahead of Michael for sixth and Juan Pablo Montoya was next on track. The Colombian took fourth, two places behind teammate Raikkonen.
Mark Webber's Williams stole the fourth place from Montoya on his flyer and Red Bull's David Coulthard slotted into ninth behind Klien. Alonso led out for Renault and had a storming lap to take provisional pole by just nine hundredths up on Trulli, 1:32.582.
Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello was the penultimate runner and had a rather lacklustre lap to post 13th behind Massa, and two places behind Michael. That left Melbourne winner Fisichella as the last man out and despite his best efforts he couldn't match Alonso and clocked third.
It was a satisfying result for Renault's engineering director Pat Symonds. "Fernando's lap for provisional pole seemed very clean, and he thinks he could have got more out of the car," he said. "Giancarlo lost time this morning when he spun, but recovered well in qualifying. The cars are much better balanced than yesterday after hard work from the drivers and their engineers last night."
Renault, Toyota and McLaren all looked strong in this first qualifying session and with less than three tenths separating the top four it's going to be very close tomorrow. The top ten were only just over a second apart so there's a lot that could happen on Sunday morning.
Trulli's second place, unsurprisingly, was very pleasing for the Italian. "It almost goes without saying that I am very happy with this result," he commented. "This morning, we worked very well on the set-up of the car and on the tyres. We are showing a strong performance this weekend."
Williams looked reasonably in touch with the front runners and Red Bull, although not a fortunate as in Melbourne, still showed good pace. Ferrari was a bit of mystery with both cars outside the top ten but it's never wise to dismiss the Scuderia.
Michael was naturally disappointed, but optimistic. "I still expect to be competitive in tomorrow's race, while I don't think things will change significantly in second qualifying," he remarked. "It's a very long and tough race and our aim is to finish in the points, if not on the podium."
Massa's 13th for Sauber was at least ahead of Barrichello's Ferrari, while Villeneuve ended up 16th. Davidson landed 15th on is first qualifying effort for BAR and Jordan led Minardi at the back, the last four all over five seconds off the pace.
It was an interesting session and tomorrow's final qualifying promises more of the same to see who ends up on pole for the race. Can Renault make it two in a row? Final top eight classification: Alonso, Trulli, Fisichella, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, Webber, Montoya, Heidfeld.