After leading all but one practice session at the United States Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello secured pole position with a lap of 1:10.223 on the 2.605-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road/oval circuit. The final driver to take a timed lap, by...
After leading all but one practice session at the United States Grand Prix, Rubens Barrichello secured pole position with a lap of 1:10.223 on the 2.605-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road/oval circuit. The final driver to take a timed lap, by virtue of being fastest in pre-qualifying, Barrichello continued to rule this circuit.
While slower than his teammate Michael Schumacher (who starts second tomorrow) in the first and third sectors, Barrichello bested all but third-starter Takuma Sato in Sector 2 (S2), the twisty area from just past Turn 5 to beyond Turn 10 on the 13-corner Indy track.
"The car has been good all week and we've made progress from yesterday," Barrichello acknowledged. "Michael and I have been working very closely here and we made a small change for qualifying" that obviously worked to gain the Brazilian his first pole position of the 2004 season and tenth of his stellar career.
Climatic changes from Friday to today brought lower temperatures and humidity to the heartland of America but also changed and heightened wind direction from yesterday. "The wind changes affect the cars on the banking so the car moves side to side a bit more," the polesitter stated.
Michael Schumacher, who has never finished worse than second in four contests at Indianapolis, starts second with his lap of 1:10.400, 0.177 seconds behind Barrichello. The six-time Formula One World Champion had pre-qualified back in ninth place and had not been able to pace his teammate in practice yesterday or today.
"We had a very fast first second but in S2 the car was sliding around too much (he was 9th). It was harder to keep the car on the track and I'm very happy to be on the front row," Schumacher said. "To be honest, I expected to be further back. Rubens has had a fantastic weekend and this is our strength in that we always push each other. My philosophy here is this: to aim for the win, first we must finish."
For rookie Sato driving the Lucky Strike BAR Honda this is an excellent result, taking third on the 20-car grid at 1:10.601, 0.378 seconds behind the leader. The Japanese driver was fastest in S2 and he is "very happy because we have both cars on row 2. It was a little bit gusty out there," Sato commented. "Honda has been working really hard from Canada to here and we have a new step engine for the reliability issues" at this race.
Jenson Button's run to P4 in the sister car to Sato came midway through qualifying. In his quick lap of 1:10.820 Button was fourth in S1, third in the all-important S2 but fell to ninth in the final sector, likely due to the fact that he was running less wing than his teammate. "It was pretty awful, actually. When you are going out third, you don't know what to do with the balance. We had a lot of oversteer in the car and struggled quite a bit."
The penultimate driver to take a qualifying lap, Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya earned fifth on the grid at 1:11.062, his BMW Williams F1 not particularly quick in any area. Of course the 2000 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner (and 1999 CART champion) was disappointed. "I believe there's more in the car," Montoya said. "The balance wasn't perfect (in either qualifying session) and this cost Ralf and myself a better grid position. All in all I believe we have a good race car and starting from the third row is still promising."
Teammate Ralf Schumacher lines up sixth at 1:11.106 and found it "a decent qualifying, nothing special really. I still had some problems with the balance of my car, which has been the case all weekend. The changing wind and dust are not helping the situation, but then it's the same for everyone."
Kimi Raikkonen starts seven in the West McLaren Mercedes after turning a lap of1:11.137, still just .914 seconds behind Barrichello, a better result for him and the team than they have experienced in the recent past. The Finn "did better than expected as the car has been quite difficult to handle so far this weekend. We managed to find a good balance and an overall improvement in time for qualifying.
Olivier Panis, whose third place pre-qualifying effort in the Panasonic Toyota looked promising earned eighth grid slot at 1:11.167 in final qualifying. The Frenchman feels the team "set a solid base for the weekend, gathering valuable data about our tires" during Friday practice. "I'm quite happy with my starting position and it is certainly a realistic target to score points tomorrow. We are getting the full potential out of the TF104," he said.
Spaniard Fernando Alonso starts ninth in the Mild Seven Renault after posting 1:11.185 and he agreed, "We have improved the car a lot since yesterday and the engineers have done a great job. I didn't have any problems and made no mistakes. I am feeling quite confident for tomorrow and, given our fuel load I think we are on a good strategy."
Using a new spec Cosworth engine made available only to him for this race, Mark Webber took tenth in the Jaguar with his lap of 1:11.286 and was the first qualifier not to set a lap within a second of Barrichello. "I am really pleased with my qualifying lap. It felt good out there and the car is in good shape" after his trip through the Turn 6 gravel trap this morning in the second practice session.
"I was expecting more from qualifying today based on our performance in practice," declared Panasonic Toyota driver Cristiano da Matta, who starts 11th based on his 1:11.691-second timed lap. "I suffered with less grip than in the previous sessions; nevertheless, we have demonstrated more competitiveness at this track than at any other all season, so I remain optimistic."
Another character building weekend for David Coulthard, who lines up 12th in the second West McLaren Mercedes. While he was reasonably pleased with his similar placement in pre-qualifying and the team didn't make any before his second run, "I was a little bit surprised when the car felt different. I got out of shape in the corners and used more traction control, which just soaks up the time."
Rookie Christian Klien in the second Jaguar took 13th and thought "my final qualifying was no, perhaps as good as I would have liked and slightly slower than the first. I will be looking for make a good start and, given our strategy I feel we are in a good situation."
Giancarlo Fisichella starts 14th in the Sauber Petronas and explained his lack of speed: "We suffered with lack of rear-end grip, which we expected after yesterday. Although my lap wasn't perfect, I know we have a good race strategy." Teammate Felipe Massa, who set the fastest trap speed of 341.9kph starts 15th. "Considering the performance over the whole weekend, I think I had a reasonable lap."
Jordan Ford earned the 16th and 17th grid slots for Nick Heidfeld and Giorgio Pantano, respectively. "We have struggled with our balance here for some reason," Heidfeld noted. "We have improved it over the weekend so far, thanks to the engineers' hard work." Pantano was "pretty happy with my qualifying although I know I made a little mistake on corners 7 and 8."
The two Wilux Minardi cars hold their traditional spots at the rear of the field in 18th and 19th spots, with Gianmaria Bruni leading Zsolt Baumgartner. Bruni "struggled with traction on the infield section", while Baumgartner "made a couple of mistakes on the final run and the car also developed quite a bit of oversteer."
But it is Jarno Trulli, winner of the Monaco round who starts in the final grid spot, due to a suspected steering wheel problem. Trulli was unable to get drive from his Mild Seven Renault when called to the qualifying line and had to be push-started. "I had trouble exiting the garage because first gear would not engage, and then the car wouldn't change gear properly. It will be a tough race tomorrow but we can still look to scorre points."
And so the fifth USGP to be held at the famed Brickyard circuit will feature an all-Ferrari front row with an all-BAR Honda row two tomorrow at noon when they perform the standing start for 73 laps of racing. Will the resulting podium be different than in the past three years? We'll have to watch and see.