Schumacher claims pole in French GP qualifying

Ferrari scored its third front row lockout of the season in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, with Michael Schumacher claiming pole position ahead of Felipe Massa. The German's pole time was 1:15.493 and Massa was less than two ...

Ferrari scored its third front row lockout of the season in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, with Michael Schumacher claiming pole position ahead of Felipe Massa. The German's pole time was 1:15.493 and Massa was less than two hundredths behind. Renault's Fernando Alonso was close but not close enough and had to settle for third.

There are two changes to qualifying from this weekend onwards; in the first two 15 minute sessions drivers are now permitted to complete a flying lap once the chequered flag is waved, and the final 20 minute session has been shortened to 15. The track temperature was hotter than usually expected at Magny Cours, already in the low fifties at the start.

BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld was first out on track followed by the Williams of Mark Webber. Webber's teammate Nico Rosberg will suffer the 10 place grid demotion penalty as Williams decided his engine needed changed. Over-revving at Indianapolis apparently led to the concerns that prompted the change.

Michael's Ferrari had a small fuel fire in the morning's practice but he was out on track quick enough with no evident problems. Heidfeld set the first time, 1:18.109, with Webber second. MF1's Christijan Albers took over from Heidfeld, quickly followed by the Toyota of Jarno Trulli.

Trulli's teammate Ralf Schumacher was in the top six, as was the MF1 of Tiago Monteiro, then Trulli returned to the top of the times. Red Bull's Christian Klien took second and Toro Rosso's Scott Speed was third. Monteiro had a wander into the gravel but continued, while David Coulthard's Red Bull grabbed the top spot.

The second Toro Rosso of Tonio Liuzzi made the top 10 and the Super Aguris of Takuma Sato and Franck Montagny bought up the rear, with seven drivers still to set a time. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen posted fourth then lost it to Liuzzi and Massa was the first Ferrari on a flyer. He took the top of the times, down into the 1:16 bracket.

Rubens Barrichello's Honda clocked sixth and Jacques Villeneuve's BMW Sauber also made the top 10. Pedro de la Rosa put his McLaren third and Michael took the top spot, the time now into the 1:15 area. Alonso arrived in third and teammate Giancarlo Fisichella was in a comfortable enough spot to go through.

Heading towards the end of the session Jenson Button's Honda was in the drop zone but clawed his way to 14th. Rosberg was a late improver to the top 10 and Ralf moved up to second. Trulli went back into the lead, while Barrichello just sneaked into the top 15 but other cars were falling down the list.

For Button time ran out. Liuzzi led those to be dropped in 17th, then came Villeneuve, Button, Monteiro, Montagny and Sato. BMW's wings didn't make Villeneuve fly this time, although Heidfeld was 11th, and it was another disaster for Button. Trulli was fastest with a 1:15.550 and Michael and Ralf were second and third.

The times were cleared for the second session and once again Heidfeld and Webber were out early. Others quickly joined them and Heidfeld set the initial time of 1:16.394. The two Williams' slotted in behind, Webber ahead of Rosberg, then came Speed. Ralf was on a hot lap and immediately posted a time back into the 1:15s.

Klien managed sixth and Barrichello seventh, while Trulli took second behind teammate Ralf. He lost it to Raikkonen and de la Rosa made the top six at the time. Alonso was next into the second slot while Fisichella posted fifth. Massa too took the second position, on his first run, and Michael clocked the fastest time when he went out.

Rosberg was a late improver to ninth and Coulthard just edged into 10th. Webber led the next sixth to be dropped in 11th, followed by Heidfeld, Klien, Barrichello, Speed and Albers. Michael was the fastest man in that session with a 1:15.111 -- Ralf was second and Massa third, so the top three were again all Bridgestone runners.

The times were cleared for the last, slightly shorter than previously, session. The top 10 still have to qualify with race fuel on board so there was the usual burning off to be done, although obviously there's slightly less time in which to do it. Alonso led out, followed by the two Ferraris and Michael swiftly got ahead.

Alonso promptly had a go back and they were scrapping even before race day. Michael clocked the early top time, 1:17.777, with Alonso second and Raikkonen third. There were a few shuffles of position behind them, while Alonso and Michael were side by side again, Alonso gaining the advantage that time.

The McLarens were the first ones to duck in for a tyre change and kicked off the charge of hot laps in the last six minutes. De la Rosa did a 1:16.632 and Raikkonen had been quicker but made a little mistake and took second behind his new teammate. Alonso took over but Michael was immediately next the line with a 1:15.770, which was surely a contender for pole.

Massa popped up in second and Raikkonen decided to go out for another flyer, as did everyone else. De la Rosa had a few lock-ups and didn't improve but Raikkonen went ahead for provisional fourth. Alonso managed to get alongside Michael in second but Massa wasn't about to lose the front row spot and bumped the Spaniard off it.

Michael had lowered his time to 1:15.493, which was pole position, and Massa was only fractionally behind. The second one-two in a row this season for Ferrari and Renault was taken a little by surprise. Alonso finished third and can't expect any help from Fisichella, who will start from seventh.

The two Toyotas were late gainers, to fourth and fifth, Trulli ahead, which dropped Raikkonen to sixth. De la Rosa managed eighth and Rosberg and Coulthard finished off the line up, although Rosberg will drop due to his penalty. The Bridgestone runners certainly seemed to have the advantage over a single flying lap but will that stay the same over a race distance?

"I am very happy!" Michael exclaimed. "Pole position with Felipe starting alongside me - we cannot ask for more! I have to admit I am a bit surprised at the result, especially in light of the fact we started qualifying without much of a reference point after the problems we had this morning in practice. I want to thank all the mechanics, who did a fantastic job to fix the car."

Massa came very close to reversing the front row line up. "For tomorrow, having new tyres in the race will make a big difference so it will be interesting to see who will have that advantage," he said. "In practice we were competitive on used tyres and I hope we can maintain a good pace in tomorrow's high temperatures over the long runs so that we can stay in front."

Alonso thinks the Michelins will be consistent on long runs. "I am pleased with third position, because after Indianapolis I think it is important for me to be among the top cars in qualifying," the Spaniard commented. "We knew that Ferrari would be very competitive on a single lap, but I did my maximum today and I am feeling confident for the race."

It was an interesting session and, as usual, there will be a lot of questions to be answered on Sunday. Renault wants that top step of the podium for its home race but it's not going to be easy. Final top ten classification: M. Schumacher, Massa, Alonso, Trulli, R. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Fisichella, de la Rosa, Rosberg, Coulthard.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Takuma Sato , Jarno Trulli , Jenson Button , Ralf Schumacher , Pedro de la Rosa , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Jacques Villeneuve , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Franck Montagny , Fernando Alonso , Christijan Albers , Felipe Massa , Tiago Monteiro , Scott Speed , Nico Rosberg , Christian Klien
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Toro Rosso , Williams