It was a case of damage limitation for Fernando Alonso in today’s qualifying session for tomorrow’s Canadian Grand Prix and just damage for the unfortunate Felipe Massa, who for the second race weekend in succession had a crash that was bad enough to see him play no more part in the afternoon proceedings after Q2. The Spaniard will start from the third row in sixth place, while the Brazilian is sixteenth on row 8.
On top of that, fuel loads have to be precisely calculated, so that you have just enough to do the number of laps your plan demands, without having too much, so that the weight penalty slows you down. When it’s wet, the tension and complication all goes up a notch or two and the fact that the level of rain kept changing made life even tougher for everyone today.
In fact, the track seemed dry enough for slicks as the cars left the pits for the start of Q1, but it only took less than a lap for all the drivers to report that they had no grip as the rain intensified. Everyone dashed back into the pits to fit intermediates, the only tyre that would be used for the rest of the afternoon.
In the Scuderia Ferrari garage it was clear that getting the rain tyres up to the right operating temperature was proving tricky and certainly didn’t help Fernando’s chances, although as usual the Spaniard gave it his all. Felipe was also fighting his car’s lack of grip and he got caught out when he clipped a white painted line at the side of the track, just as he was braking.
Painted lines, rain and braking make a famously strong cocktail in motor racing and there is usually one outcome, a spinning car. So the unfortunate Brazilian had a third successive accident following the two in Monaco and will have an uphill fight as he tries to head for the points zone from the back end of the grid.
But with dry weather forecast, slower cars ahead of him and a track where overtaking was even possible in the days before DRS, he has every chance of salvaging something from his Canadian weekend.
Fernando also expects to go on the attack when the lights go out at 13h00 on Sunday and he too has cars ahead of him that probably can’t match the pace of the F138. That probably doesn’t apply to the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel, who broke the recent Mercedes stranglehold on pole, even if Lewis Hamilton starts alongside him for the Anglo-German team.
On a day that was full of surprises, the biggest one is surely the fact that in third spot on the grid is Valtteri Bottas in the Williams. Alongside him is Nico Rosberg in the other Mercedes, while Fernando has Mark Webber on his inside in fifth place for Red Bull.
Fernando Alonso: “We were well aware how difficult this weekend could be, because with such changeable weather, the track can change from one lap to the next and right to the end, you can never be sure what are the right tyres to use. I am reasonably happy to have salvaged what I could from a qualifying that featured so many unknowns.
Starting from sixth here isn’t bad, because you can overtake at this circuit. I’m definitely hoping for a race with no rain, because in the dry, looking at yesterday’s long runs, we can be more competitive and quicker than some of the cars that start in front of us tomorrow.
The aim is still to make up ground on our closest competitors: with Raikkonen we have a slightly better chance of doing so, as he is starting behind me, while with Vettel, it’s a tougher task. In any case, I won’t take anything for granted, because here, especially if it rains, anything can happen and it can be the case that strategy counts for less than luck does”.
Felipe Massa: “I am very unhappy with the way qualifying went for me. Track conditions were not easy, there was very little grip and I was struggling to put together a good lap. I went out in Q2 because I braked on a white line at Turn 3 and when the rear end broke away, there was nothing I could do anymore. Physically, I’m fine, but within myself I’m very disappointed.
Never before have I had three accidents in such close succession, even if it’s always the case that when you try and give your all on tracks like this one and Monte Carlo, the risks are always higher. I still don’t know exactly how badly damaged the car is, but even if I’m very disappointed with what happened, we must stay focused, because tomorrow’s race will be long and on this track, anything can happen. I had a good pace today and tomorrow I plan to drive an attacking race”.
Pat Fry: “Today’s qualifying was extremely complicated and its outcome was significantly influenced by the variable weather conditions. In situations like this, the drivers must absolutely be able to do the right number of runs in all three phases that make up the session and with that in mind, we paid close attention to how much fuel we put in the cars, in addition to making the best tyre choices on a track that was in a state of continuous evolution, because of the intermittent rain.
In fact, we had a few problems in getting the tyres up to temperature and on top of that the track surface here is less abrasive and so it’s even harder to get the right feeling from the tyres. Fortunately, overtaking is possible here and from where he starts on the grid, Fernando can certainly try to attack.
It will be harder for Felipe, because he’s starting from quite a way back. But in the last few races, we have always had a good race pace and we hope that tomorrow the weather clears up enough so that we can make the most of our potential”.