Renault's Jarno Trulli took pole position in qualifying for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix, beating Ferrari's Michael Schumacher by seven hundredths of a second. In wet conditions, Renault took a gamble on intermediate tyres, which paid off when ...
Renault's Jarno Trulli took pole position in qualifying for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix, beating Ferrari's Michael Schumacher by seven hundredths of a second. In wet conditions, Renault took a gamble on intermediate tyres, which paid off when Trulli clocked 1:56.232 and Fernando Alonso finished third. Schumacher got past the Spaniard for second but couldn't match Trulli.
The rain had eased off after the morning's deluge but the track was still very wet and the temperature was around the 20 degree mark. Schumacher was first out in pre-qualifying and the Ferrari clocked a 1:53.755, which was slightly faster than he went in the earlier practice. Teammate Rubens Barrichello followed on and was over a second down, although he was quicker in the final sector.
Alonso was over four seconds off the pace and Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya wasn't much better, three seconds down on Schumacher. Not a good start for the Michelin runners. Jenson Button was up next and the Michelin shod BAR was even slower than Alonso. Teammate Takuma Sato was slower again, both BARs over five seconds down.
Antonio Pizzonia, who stuffed his Williams into a barrier in practice, was in the same time bracket as the BARs and the next runner was Giancarlo Fisichella's Bridgestone shod Sauber. The Italian showed much better pace and slotted into third, although two seconds off the lead Ferrari. The Bridgestone tyres had the advantage over the Michelins in the wet.
David Coulthard was the first McLaren and was almost as quick as Schumacher in sector one but it was the second two where the Michelin cars were losing out so badly. The Scot dropped three seconds in the middle part of the lap but managed to bring it home fifth fastest behind Montoya.
Jaguar's Mark Webber struggled round the circuit and was the slowest yet, over five and a half seconds off provisional pole. Olivier Panis was already a second off in the first sector and the Toyota finished over seven seconds down, not even under the two minute mark.
Nick Heidfeld's Jordan may have been on Bridgestones but the tyres couldn't compensate for the lack of pace. However, he finished ahead of Panis. Christian Klien was only marginally better in the second Jaguar and slotted into 11th behind teammate Webber. Gianmaria Bruni, who crunched at Eau Rouge in practice, was over nine seconds down in the Minardi.
His teammate Zsolt Baumgartner made a good effort and took 13th ahead of Panis and two seconds up on Bruni. Jordan's Giorgio Pantano also went well to post 11th, splitting the Jaguars. Trulli had a slightly better time of things, as the track improved slowly, and managed seventh, one behind teammate Alonso.
Ricardo Zonta spun his Toyota in the middle sector and clipped the tyre wall with the rear wing but managed to get back to the pits. Sauber's Felipe Massa had a great lap, flying round to take third and just over two seconds down on Schumacher.
Kimi Raikkonen was the last runner and the McLaren also had an excellent lap, putting the rest of the Michelin runners in the shade with third quickest, 1.6 off the Ferrari. Schumacher, Barrichello and Raikkonen ended one two three, with the Saubers just behind, and the conditions were slightly better heading into final qualifying.
The Toyota mechanics were frantically working on Zonta's car as he was due out first. They managed it and he set his flying lap but his time was over two minutes. Bruni fought his way round and was rewarded by clocking over a second quicker than Zonta, which is excellent for Minardi. Panis salvaged Toyota's pride by going three seconds quicker for provisional pole, 1:59.552 and the first under two minutes.
As Baumgartner headed out, it was raining again over some areas of the track. The Hungarian was slightly slower than teammate Bruni, due to a wobbly moment at Pouhon, but also ahead of Zonta. Heidfeld's Jordan looked very slippery but he beat the Minardis to take second.
Klien had a reasonable lap to demote Heidfeld for second, 1.6 off Panis, and Pantano had a rather nervous effort for sixth. Webber was much more committed and took provisional pole with 1:58.729, a very tidy lap. Pizzonia got a bit out of shape at La Source and lost a couple of seconds, which put him fourth behind Klien.
Sato was up on Webber through sector one but lost out in the middle to slot into fifth. With half the field gone, only Webber and Panis were under the two minute mark. Button managed third but he too suffered in the middle sector. Renault sent Trulli out on intermediate tyres rather than wets and it worked. He was up in sector one and made it stick through the middle and last to post 1:56.232 for provisional pole.
Alonso also went out on intermediates and was a little twitchy, a small mistake leaving him half a second down on Trulli through the middle. He couldn't beat his teammate and slotted into second. Coulthard followed the tyre choice but was rather messy, taking third behind the Renaults.
Montoya took the intermediate option -- and it started raining heavily again! The Colombian suffered in the increasing wet and had to settle for sixth, although ahead of teammate Pizzonia. Fisichella was the first of the Bridgestone front runners, on full wets, but could only manage fourth, 1.8 down.
Massa lost out even more in the last sector, the rain was hurling down, and took sixth but both Saubers ahead of the Williams pair is good. Raikkonen took the full wet Michelin option but had a slippery moment at the Bus Stop chicane, which put him all the way down to eighth.
The Ferrari duo were last out and Barrichello also fell foul of the Bus Stop, to clock fifth. Schumacher was marginally up on Trulli through the first sector and increased to three tenths in the middle. No foul ups for Michael at the chicane but, surprisingly, he lost out by seven hundredths and took second.
"We were lucky in our gamble to go for intermediate tyres," said Trulli. "The decision came just before I was due to leave the pits and it was a great call from the mechanics as we only had a small window in which those tyres were better."
An excellent result for Renault, pole for Trulli and Alonso in third, the tyre gamble really paid off at exactly the right time. Schumacher is on the front row but with the fast starting Renaults in front and behind him, the charge off the grid will surely be a concern for the reigning champion.
"We know we usually start very good and we have the chance to be first and second in the first corner which will be very good for the team," said Alonso. "We had a difficult day today with no real practice and then this qualifying which was difficult. To be in the top three is a fantastic result and I think for tomorrow we have a competitive car in the dry or in the wet, so I'm happy."
Schumacher is well aware of the Renault threat. "We have a big challenge ahead of us tomorrow," he said. "We know both Renaults are good starters so we hope we can get away well and see how the race goes. My lap wasn't so fantastic -- I struggled a bit in turn five and got a bit sideways and towards the end it got a bit tricky."
The good news for Schumacher though, is Barrichello only being sixth -- Michael needs to score just two more points than his teammate to claim the 2004 drivers' title. As for Renault, the bonus is that its nearest rivals in the standings, BAR, is outside the top ten. Button ended 12th and Sato 15th, which is a poor result for the team.
Coulthard did McLaren proud with fourth but Raikkonen's slip was very costly and left him tenth. Williams was caught out by the rain on Montoya's lap and both he and Pizzonia were outside the top ten, 11th and 14th respectively. Sauber had an excellent result, Fisichella fifth and Massa eighth, its best qualifying of the season.
Webber finished seventh, which was a good effort, and Klien 13th, also not a bad result for the young Austrian. Panis' lap was timely and gave Toyota ninth on the grid but Zonta was too cautious, down at the very back -- although to be fair he was slightly hampered by missing aero components after the earlier damage to his car.
But the Brazilian's wariness, along with Pantano's, handed Minardi grid slots 17 and 18, which is a good result for the Faenza squad. Heidfeld finished 16th, which is about par for the course for Jordan.
Of course, the teams are focused on the race so the cars were mostly set up for dry conditions, which are predicted for Sunday, so qualifying was a bit of a gamble all round. Will the weather hold out tomorrow? Final top eight classification: Trulli, Schumacher, Alonso, Coulthard, Fisichella, Barrichello, Webber, Massa.