Alonso takes pole in tense European GP qualifying

Alonso takes pole in tense European GP qualifying

Renault's Fernando Alonso claimed pole position in a close-fought qualifying session for the European Grand Prix, his first pole of the season. The current champion clocked 1:29.819, two tenths ahead of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari in second....

Renault's Fernando Alonso claimed pole position in a close-fought qualifying session for the European Grand Prix, his first pole of the season. The current champion clocked 1:29.819, two tenths ahead of Michael Schumacher's Ferrari in second. Felipe Massa gave a confident performance to put his Ferrari third on the grid.

Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Both Nico Rosberg and Mark Webber will have to incur the 10 place grid demotion penalty as Williams decided to change their engines. After morning practice it seems there was a problem with Webber's engine and the team opted to switch Rosberg's as well, as a precautionary measure.

Conditions were warm and dry at the start of the first 15 minute session with the track temperature edging close to 40 degrees. Toyota's Ralf Schumacher led out, followed by the Williams pair, the Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Christian Klien, the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato and the second Toyota of Jarno Trulli.

MF1's Tiago Monterio was next out and Super Aguri's Franck Montagny for his first F1 qualifying session. Monteiro's teammate Christijan Albers joined them, along with the Toro Rosso's of Tonio Liuzzi and Scott Speed. Ralf, on his 150th Grand Prix weekend, was the first to set a time, 1:32.674, and Trulli slotted in behind.

Klien took third and Monteiro second, but lost it to Albers, then Liuzzi took over at the top, just fractionally quicker than Ralf. Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren set a very fast first sector and followed it up with two more to easily go fastest, over a second up. Juan Pablo Montoya was also out on track warming up his McLaren for a flyer.

Rubens Barrichello.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The Hondas of Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button traded the second spot and Montoya split the pair with third. Michael's Ferrari took over from Raikkonen by just a couple of hundredths. Massa was in the top ten and Fernando Alonso's Renault was next to the top, a tenth up on Michael.

BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld made the top six, as did the Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella. There was a bit of confusion when the track timing showed a red flag but it was apparently a technical glitch as the session wasn't stopped. It didn't help BMW's Jacques Villeneuve, who looked like he aborted a hot lap due to the phantom flag.

At the end of the first 15 minutes Speed in 17th led the six to be dropped, followed by Monteiro, Klien, Sato, Villeneuve and Montagny. Alonso's 1:31.138 remained fastest with Michael second and Raikkonen third. Race control delayed the start of the second session by 10 minutes due to the problems with the timing system.

Klien was "massively pissed off" after being affected first by the erroneous red flag and then by being held up by Sato. "My tyres were worn, but I was on for a good time until I came up to Sato," Klien said. "He didn't look in his mirrors and ruined my whole lap and whole qualifying session."

Jacques Villeneuve.
Photo by xpb.cc.

An investigation into the times revealed Villeneuve had been quick enough for the top 10 so he was reinstated and Albers was dropped instead. Also, apparently Fisichella was second quickest, not Michael, followed by the two McLarens and the two Ferraris. The times of the remaining 16 drivers were cleared ready for the second session.

Liuzzi was first on the time sheet, 1:32.621, but was quickly replaced by Villeneuve and then Heidfeld and Trulli. Ralf had a bit of a spin but continued, while Coulthard moved into second. He was demoted by Ralf and Raikkonen was on a flyer; the Finn clocked a very quick 1:30.203, the best of the weekend at the time.

Montoya jumped into second but immediately lost it to Massa, then Michael took over at the top a couple tenths up on Raikkonen. Barrichello clocked third and with five minutes to go Webber, Rosberg and Alonso finally got out on track. Rosberg took sixth and Alonso third then Webber took the sixth slot off his teammate.

In the final minutes Trulli made the top six and Fisichella edged into 10th. Ralf and Rosberg demoted the Italian and Button, who previously seemed to have a problem, just sneaked into eighth, followed by Villeneuve into ninth. From Massa in sixth to Ralf in 11th, there were only two tenths between them.

Giancarlo Fisichella.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Ralf led the next six to be dropped, followed by Rosberg, and Fisichella once again missed the top ten shootout, which he was really not very happy about and went down to BMW to have a shout at Villeneuve, who he evidently believed held him up. Coulthard, Heidfeld and Liuzzi were the other three to lose out.

With the times cleared and race fuel on board the top 10 set about the business of burning off fuel in the last 20 minute session ready for quick laps towards the end. Michael set the initial top time of 1:33.607, followed by Massa, Alonso and Raikkonen but it was a fairly sedate procession around the track for a while.

Michael lowered his time to 1:32.530 and the order held behind him until the time started ticking away in the last 10 minutes. Button was the first to duck in for a tyre change, followed by Michael, Massa and Alonso then the others. Button fired off a lap of fastest sectors all round to post 1:31.715 and the race for pole was on.

Alonso clocked 1:30.454 and Michael took second, two hundredths behind. Massa was third and Button fourth, then came Barrichello and Villeneuve. The McLarens were back in for more fresh rubber ready for the final assault, as were several others. The times were falling rapidly as the session headed for its conclusion.

Fernando Alonso.
Photo by LAT Photographic.

Alonso was out on a clear track and clocked a superb 1:29.819 but Michael was storming up behind -- the German couldn't quite make it and took second a couple of tenths behind. Alonso's time held to the end and he claimed his first pole position of the season, with the Ferraris behind in second and third.

"It will be an interesting race, to see what happens," said Alonso. "I think we have good race pace. They (Ferrari) also have a good pace in the long runs, so hopefully it will be close and I hope to fight for victory. You never know what will happen in the end but at least it seems that we are there again and competitive and this is the important thing, to always be on the podium."

Once again Ferrari put in a good qualifying performance but can they hold the race pace? Imola was good for the reds but Michael and Massa had difficulties in the middle stint. There's more chance of overtaking at the N?rburgring than at Imola so Ferrari needs to be strong from start to finish. But so far so good.

It wasn't a trouble free qualifying for Michael. "The first (run) wasn't that clear in terms of traffic and preparation," he commented. "Neither was the second; again there were quite a few cars just in front of me, but nevertheless, I'm on the first row with a strong package, good race pace, so it should be interesting tomorrow."

Felipe Massa.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Massa was happy with his own and Ferrari's result. "It's definitely very good for us to start on the first and second row," he said. "I think I did a good lap. It was a little bit windy; during the whole qualifying session it was not so easy to do a good lap. I'm quite happy to be here and as Michael said, we feel quite strong for the race."

Barrichello outqualified Button for the first time, with Raikkonen splitting the two Hondas in fifth. Honda hasn't been able to hang on to the pace of the front runners in the races so far, while McLaren's recent qualifying performances have been a bit off the mark. Montoya finished down in ninth.

After his troubles on Friday Trulli managed seventh, while Villeneuve recovered from Fisichella's ear-bashing to take eighth. Webber rounded off the top 10 but will be demoted to near the back due to his engine change. That will promote Ralf into 10th and Rosberg's equal drop on the grid will put Fisichella up to 11th.

It was a tense battle for pole between the current and former champions and providing Alonso gets a good start he is surely favourite for the win -- but the N?rburgring often throws up surprises. Final top ten classification: Alonso, M. Schumacher, Massa, Barrichello, Raikkonen, Button, Trulli, Villeneuve, Montoya, Webber.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Toro Rosso , Williams