BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica put joy in the hearts of Formula One fans everywhere with a startling fast lap that broke a Ferrari-McLaren stranglehold and secured pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The starting spot is the first ...
BMW Sauber driver Robert Kubica put joy in the hearts of Formula One fans everywhere with a startling fast lap that broke a Ferrari-McLaren stranglehold and secured pole position at the Bahrain Grand Prix. The starting spot is the first pole position for Kubica, in his third F1 season, and for BMW Sauber in either iteration, manufacturer or private entry, in the team's 15-year history.
Kubica's 1 minute, 33.096 lap of the 3.336-mile Bahrain International Circuit pipped Brazilian Felipe Massa of Ferrari, who had looked a dead cert for pole after showing blazing speed throughout the weekend. No marque other than Ferrari or McLaren took pole position throughout the 2007 season or in the first two races this season. Massa timed in at 1:33.123 to gain the first row.
Filling out the first five rows are Lewis Hamilton for McLaren next to Ferrari world champion Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren rookie Heikki Kovalainen alongside Kubica's teammate Nick Heidfeld, Toyota's Jarno Trulli lines-up with Williams's Nico Rosberg, who was quickest in morning practice, and Honda's Jenson Button next to Renault's Fernando Alonso.
"Qualifying went pretty well in Quali 1 and Quali 2 but Quali 3 I managed to do a quite good lap and first time in pole position," the Krakow, Poland, native and resident said. "I started the lap pretty well, then at Corner 9 I locked the wheels and, unfortunately, I flatspotted the tires so was not easy. I have very big vibration. The last three corners, which are right-handers, was very difficult but I managed to don't do a mistake, and the car was pulling on the braking to one side, but still it was enough for the pole and I'm very happy."
The first Pole to place so highly on a Formula One grid said he worked diligently in the close season to lose more than 13 pounds to give team engineers more flexibility in balancing car weight. Weight loss, he said, was not easy.
"We have seen that if I would be lighter we would go a bit quicker, and so we decided with my engineer (Anthony Cuqueurella) to make maximal effort to reduce the weight from wherever, from the car and from myself, and I work hard and that's, I think, the kind of result we can get from it. It was maximum effort, very hard effort for myself. Still, I manage."
The face of BMW Sauber team principal Mario Theissen was locked in a smile when the timing information fed onto television screens throughout pit lane. Pole position is advancing proof that the German-Swiss team have the goods to reach the top step of the victory podium.
Massa had reason to look shocked. Attempting to defend last year's race victory, the Ferrari driver hoped to fend off critics unhappy with his two mistake-driven DNFs this season. But a slowish middle sector, after he earlier set quickest time there, left him three-tenths behind the Pole. He blamed traffic.
"I did incredible laps during the whole weekend, the car was just perfect all the time," he said. "And just in Q3 was the only time which I was all the time behind cars. I did a first try and it was a pretty good lap time the whole lap behind Nico, and it was a shame because I managed to pull away a good gap and even braking for him to pass me. Then I did the whole lap behind him and it was already enough to be close to pole."
Still, the driver in the shadow of a world champion teammate made the best of it.
"We are on the front row. I think we can be very strong tomorrow," he said.
Englishman Hamilton, whose qualifying effort came off a ribs-bruising Friday practice during which he crashed heavily after making an error in Turn 7, challenged for pole but couldn't hold quick time.
"I was quite happy with the balance I had and knew that we would be able to challenge at least for the front row," he said. "We're third. I'm very, very happy with that. I think it was a reasonably decent lap. As always, there's time to gain, and I think inevitably if it was a perfect lap, we probably could have had pole. but, y'know, I'll go back and study it and look forward to the race. But I think we have a good strategy and tomorrow it will be quite interesting."
He said crashing left him unfazed, though his team needed to use a spare MP4-23 chassis to put him back in action.
"For me, makes absolutely no difference. I get back in the car and I go faster. I think today I actually went quicker through that corner than I did yesterday the first lap I did and I think it's important to really knock down that barrier and, 'y'know, bounce back. I've never had problems with that. I've had plenty of these experiences in my career."
The top eight cars kept to within a second of one another as the final qualifying session went off with race-level fuel adjustments. Button's appearance in third qualifying marked a distinct improvement for Honda. Alonso reaching the top 10 marked an advance for Renault as well, and team principal Flavio Briatore has hinted a big leap awaits the team by the next race, later this month in Spain.
Just missing the final qualifying session were Red Bull's Mark Webber and Toyota's Timo Glock, who appeared to have advanced. Rubens Barrichello in the second Honda takes the sixth-row spot next to Webber. Glock aligns with Nelsinho Piquet in the other Renault.
Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais offered bright hope to Scuderia Toro Rosso in reaching second qualifying. He lines up next to second Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima.
Red Bull's David Coulthard not advancing from the first qualifying round was a relative surprise considering the veteran had shown consistent speed through practice rounds. He blamed oversteer. He lines up next to Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella.
After his crew made a tire inflation adjustment, Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel took a flying lap that seemed to have advanced the young German. But the flow of cars behind him bounced him down to 19th spot next to Force India's Adrian Sutil. Super Aguri journeyman Takuma Sato spun off at the final corner in the first qualifying session, putting him last on the grid next to teammate Anthony Davidson.
Qualifying marked introduction of an FIA dictate that cars return to pit lane from a flying lap within a 120-percent margin of the fast lap. The balking incident in Malaysia that prompted the directive, in which McLaren drivers Hamilton and Kovalainen impeded fast laps by Alonso and Heidfeld, was not repeated.