Ferrari sandwich the threat from Williams as McLaren struggles By Willem Postema Michael Schumacher got his weekend off to a flying start, at the one GP that he has never won. Continuing Ferrari's run of tactical dominance, the German put in his...
Michael Schumacher got his weekend off to a flying start, at the one GP that he has never won. Continuing Ferrari's run of tactical dominance, the German put in his fastest lap of 1m09.562s on the second of two flyers in one run, reducing his total number of available runs to three. Despite the problems associated with last minute traffic, and the benefits of saving a 'spare' run for the later stages, this did not matter as closest championship rivals McLaren struggled to raise its game.
The session got off to a slow start on a hot and blustery summer afternoon, with the Arrows of Brazilian Enrique Bernoldi taking to the track 20 minutes in. The reluctance of the teams to be first out on the dusty surface was not without reason with a spate of early spins keeping the crowd entertained. Jacques Villeneuve, Tarso Marques, Fernando Alonso and Jean Alesi all had problems as the track was 'cleaned' by the early runs.
Jarno Trulli was the first man to go quicker than he had done in morning practice, and continued his good form by ultimately taking fifth spot, well ahead of his team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen in 11th. Frentzen's Jordan was beset by problems throughout the session, as was Trulli's in morning practice.
The Italian's dominance didn't last long though, and he came under fire from the Williams pairing of Juan-Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, the BMW engine making light work of the elevation in the first sector of the lap, and delivering the highest top speeds through sectors two and three. The cars were also sporting the new wider Michelin front tyres, developed for low grip circuits.
Rubens Barrichello took advantage of a brief mid-session lull, marrying three good sector times to bump him up to fourth. The Ferrari number two has proven himself to be quicker than his team-mate around the A1-Ring in the past, but today he had to settle for a second row position, behind Montoya and Ralf Schumacher.
The much improved Sauber team put in another impressive qualifying performance, sandwiching the struggling McLarens. Nick Heidfeld enjoying showing Kimi Raikkonen the way in sixth and ninth respectively. David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen just couldn't shake off their apparent problems with understeer, in seventh and eighth. Both running worn, almost slick, front tyres in the frantic search for grip.
Last year's pole sitter Hakkinen, was battling with an untimely bout of 'flu, which could have easily accounted for the 0.01s differential to Coulthard. Even so, two thirds into the session both drivers were languishing well down the order, when in free practice Coulthard had been quickest. The team blamed the drop off in performance on the aerodynamic instability arising from the increasingly windy conditions.
The BARs struggled similarly in 10th and 12th, particularly Villeneuve who wowed the crowd with his dust-raising antics. It was sadly all in vain as the smoother Olivier Panis finished ahead of him once again, with Frentzen in between them.
Jaguar Racing's drivers had trouble with traffic during the session, finishing in 13th and 14th. Eddie Irvine said that the changing direction of the wind was affecting the braking points for the first corner, making it hard to judge them from one lap to the next. He also lost of time on his best lap by running too close to Hakkinen going into the final turn. Lack of straightline speed appeared to deliver insufficient downforce on the low grip surface.
Pedro de la Rosa managed to stick close to his more experienced team-mate, finishing only a tenth off Irvine's time, despite losing track time with a broken driveshaft in morning practice. Neither driver felt as though they had got the most out of the session but the team appeared reasonably happy with their highly comparable times.
The lower orders featured a deal of one-upmanship between team-mates, with Arrows' Enrique Bernoldi out-qualifying Jos Verstappen in 15th and 16th, Luciano Burti beating Jean Alesi, in 17th and 20th, and Fernando Alonso in 18th, well ahead of the more experienced Tarso Marques in 22nd. Benetton's woes continued with Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button in 19th and 21st respectively.
The closing stages of the session gave the crowd another thrill as Jos Verstappen spun in front of a flying Michael Schumacher causing the Ferrari ace to take evasive action which sent him careering across the gravel. This last occurrence of the traffic problems may well have cost Schumacher his best lap, as he had just posted the fastest second sector time, lucky for him that his pole was already secured.