Renault's Spanish newcomer Fernando Alonso has earned rave reviews since his spectacular debut for the team in Australia and he stunned his grand prix rivals today by securing the first pole position of his F1 career. Tomorrow's Malaysian GP will...
Renault's Spanish newcomer Fernando Alonso has earned rave reviews since his spectacular debut for the team in Australia and he stunned his grand prix rivals today by securing the first pole position of his F1 career. Tomorrow's Malaysian GP will be only his 19th F1 start. Alonso is also the first Spaniard to qualify fastest for a world championship grand prix.
Alonso said: "The car has great potential and I think we have shown that because we have been fast all weekend. Today's lap wasn't perfect but when I saw the time as I crossed the line I was confident it would put me in a strong position although I was originally thinking about a place in the top six!"
The 21-year-old headed a Renault/Michelin 1-2, 0.173 seconds faster than team-mate Jarno Trulli, but it is not yet known how many times the Renault drivers plan to refuel in tomorrow's race. Insiders expect other front-running teams to stop less frequently. World champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) came closest to usurping the Renaults although he fell 0.349 second short of the flying Alonso.
Current points leader David Coulthard (West McLaren-Mercedes, fourth) was quickest of the remaining Michelin runners, ahead of team-mate Kimi Räikkönen (seventh), Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, eighth) and Olivier Panis (Panasonic Toyota Racing). Räikkönen made a couple of time-consuming errors on his qualifying lap while Montoya is expected to stop just once tomorrow: his Williams appeared to be running with a particularly heavy fuel load.
Cristiano da Matta (11th) came close to matching team-mate Panis. In only his second grand prix the Brazilian lapped within 0.003 seconds of the experienced Frenchman. Jaguar/Michelin drivers Antonio Pizzonia and Mark Webber enjoyed an upswing in fortunes today. Pizzonia did not complete a qualifying run yesterday because his engine refused to start on time and Webber was plagued by a fuel pick-up problem. They completed trouble-free qualifying runs today, however, and will line up and 15th and 16th. Both qualified faster than the second Williams-BMW of Ralf Schumacher, who has struggled all weekend to balance his car.
Renault and Michelin have taken the first two places on the grid for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso the first Spaniard to qualify on pole position for a world championship F1 race and Jarno Trulli spearhead a strong Bibendum challenge: six Michelin cars will start in the top 10. Alonso is the first Renault/Michelin driver to qualify on pole position for a grand prix since Patrick Tambay (France 1984). Alain Prost and Eddie Cheever were the last Renault/Michelin drivers to lock out the front row of an F1 grid (France 1983).
Fernando Alonso lines up on pole position for what will be only his 19th grand prix start. His speed comes as no surprise, however, to Michelin motorsport director Pierre Dupasquier. "We worked with him before," he said, "during his maiden F1 season at Minardi in 2001. With that and his test programme at Renault last year we have come to know him well. I'm not that surprised to see him at the front. He is an extraordinarily determined young man and a genuine talent."
FEET ON THE GROUND
Ralf Schumacher and Williams won this race for Michelin in 2002 and the Clermont-Ferrand company's tyres have performed well so far this weekend. Pierre Dupasquier is not getting carried away, however. He said: "I'm reserving judgement. We had no cars on the front row two weeks ago in Melbourne, but still managed to finish 1-2-3 in the race. Under current regulations the grid reflects different strategies more than the potential of a particular car or driver. You can't really be sure that you have done a good job until the race finish. Only then does the true picture become clear."
LONG AND GRINDING ROAD
Malaysia is one of the hottest, toughest races of the year for drivers and equipment alike. In the past it has traditionally been a one-stop race although two-stop strategies have been a viable alternative. The new rules might bring more options into play tomorrow but, whatever tactics teams choose, Pierre Dupasquier has no worries about Michelin's ability to stand the pace. "This weekend we have had no problems at all with wear rate, he said. It would be a viable option for any of our partner teams to stop just once tomorrow. Even on a heavy fuel load, our tyres will be fast, consistent and durable."