F1

Raikkonen rips Spanish pole from Alonso's grasp

Raikkonen rips Spanish pole from Alonso's grasp

Kimi Raikkonen on Saturday pipped Fernando Alonso for pole position for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix by .091 seconds at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. The move by the Ferrari driver puts the only two world driving champions in Formula One...

Kimi Raikkonen on Saturday pipped Fernando Alonso for pole position for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix by .091 seconds at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona. The move by the Ferrari driver puts the only two world driving champions in Formula One on the front row for Sunday's race.

Pole winner Kimi Raikkonen with Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Felipe Massa in the other Ferrari lines up third next to Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber. McLarens of Lewis Hamilton and Heikki Kovalainen hold Row 3 ahead of Mark Webber of Red Bull and Jarno Trulli of Toyota on Row 4, with Nick Heidfeld, quickest in morning practice, in the other BMW Sauber and Nelsinho Piquet of Renault rounding out the top 10. Less than a second covered the top 10, whose fast-lap times ranged from Raikkonen's 1 minute, 21.813 seconds to Piquet's 1:22.699. Alonso set a 1:21.904.

It took the final, fleeting milli-thrilliseconds for Raikkonen to dash the hopes of throngs of Spaniards looking for Alonso, their 2005 and 2006 world champion hero from nearby Asturias, to do the unthinkable and capture pole. Alonso had spent the week warning fans not to expect a podium finish from the mid-pack-placing Renault despite earlier promises from team principal Flavio Briatore that enough bits and bobs would be added to the R28 to haul it into competitiveness for this start of racing in Europe.

The Renault's fuel load was thought to be a tad light but an even momentary provisional pole for the French team showed an upturn for the 2005 and 2006 World Constructors Champions.

"It was very exciting when I crossed the line because I knew the time was good," Alonso said. "I knew that only Kimi was running behind so, y'know, when I crossed the line I knew that it was first row in the worst case. That's something, for sure, we didn't expect at all, not this race, maybe even the whole season. I cannot be more happy than what I am now."

The pole is Raikkonen's first this season. His reaction was typically low-key.

"It was a nice feeling," said Raikkonen, whose most recent pole in Spain was earned in 2005. "We've been trying to get it and always, always been doing mistakes so we never have been really able to do it so, for sure, it will give us a better chance (Sunday) starting from pole. OK, so it's only qualifying but it's still a good place to be."

To signal what only the dim haven't figured out about his intentions toward defending his world driving title, Raikkonen said his Ferrari F2008 is only getting better and that he is quite happy with the car that "seems to be working quite well."

"The qualifying is one part but (Sunday) is where we get the points, so we need to," he said. "Last year we couldn't finish the race. I think so we should have good speed in the race as long as we get a clean start and we'll see what we can do."

Defending race winner Massa said he faltered in the third and final sector, the slowest, twistiest bit on the Catalan course known to drivers for its frequent use as test track. Wheel spin at Turn 7 hampered the Brazilian as well.

"In the first try, I put a pretty good lap together but it was a little bit too early, to be honest," Massa said. "And the second try, I made a very good first and second sectors but then I did not have the same lap as before. I put a lap together in the wrong moment."

Down to fourth on the grid after bagging his first pole at the most recent race in Bahrain, BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica was pleased nonetheless. "This was a good qualifying," he said. "I am very happy, as I managed to do a very quick lap in both Q2 and Q3. I am especially happy about the second qualifying session, as I was second-fastest thanks to using only one set of tires. I am looking forward to (Sunday's) race, and I think our pace is good."

Hamilton said his McLaren was balanced throughout qualifying. "I am actually quite surprised that we are not higher up the grid, as the car felt very good and I put in some strong laps," he said.

Hamilton's teammate, too, was surprised to be so far from the front. "I didn't expect to be on the third row, as I thought the last part of qualifying wasn't too bad," Kovalainen said. "However, the times are very close, and with just a tiny bit more I would have been able to gain a few positions, but that is life."

Beyond the top 10 are Honda and Williams, for whom reaching third and final qualifying was of prime importance as an indicator of progress. Rubens Barrichello takes 11th grid spot alongside Kazuki Nakakima in the Toyota-powered Williams. Jenson Button lines up behind his Honda teammate next to Timo Glock in the second Toyota. German Nico Rosberg in the second Williams sits beside Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais for Scuderia Toro Rosso.

Former four-time Champ Car series champion Bourdais continues to be a bright light -- and show well for American open-wheel racing -- for the Junior Red Bull team. His efforts, including feedback to mechanics and engineers, lifted Scuderia Toro Rosso out of first qualifying.

"Yesterday, I said that if everything went our way it would be possible to get into Q2," he said. "Obviously, I was quite happy to be 13th in Q1 because it really wasn't the greatest lap, as I had quite a lot of traffic in front of me. Unfortunately, the track conditions kept improving and we were running out of adjustments to dial out the understeer in Q2."

An attempt to rid the car of understeer provided grip but upset balance, Bourdais said, ultimately ending qualifying progress in the second session.

Tire choice for flying laps held the key to advancing through the progressive stages of qualifying. David Coulthard, second-fastest in morning practice, was notably disadvantaged by running the harder compound through first qualifying. He did not advance and will start 17th as his Red Bull teammate Webber starts seventh.

"I'm shocked about that," the Scotsman said. "I dropped some time in Turn 12, but the problem occurred at the start of the lap. I went out in a bunch of traffic and had Sutil behind me so I couldn't back off, which compromised warming up the tires. We believed we were fast enough to go through the first session only using prime tires, which take longer to warm up than the (softer) options. Under normal conditions, if you put in a hard out lap, then using primes like that shouldn't be a problem. But, unfortunately, it didn't work out for us today."

Despite an encouraging show of speed in Friday practice, the Force India entries of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil took the lower grid spots in front of Super Aguris guided by Anthony Davidson and Takuma Sato, respectively. Television images lingered on Davidson thanking each of his crew members. The team faces extinction without immediate funding, whether through a pay driver or a qualified buyout.

"Today was quite a tough qualifying for everyone in the team," Davidson said. "The boys did a great job. I put a great lap together, and I'm very proud of everyone and the job we have done all week. The car had quite a good balance, as good as it could be for qualifying, and I would like to personally thank my engineer, Richard Lane, for doing such a great job all weekend."

A midweek forecast of rain evaporated and 115,000 fans lined the course in the wake of favorable Friday practice times from Renault.

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