Fernando Alonso sent the crowds wild in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix when he took pole position for his home race, his second pole of the season and his first in Spain. Renault's champion set a best time of 1:14.648 and it's an all...
Fernando Alonso sent the crowds wild in qualifying for the Spanish Grand Prix when he took pole position for his home race, his second pole of the season and his first in Spain. Renault's champion set a best time of 1:14.648 and it's an all Renault front row with Giancarlo Fisichella second. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher put in a last gasp effort but had to settle for third.
Qualifying was dry with a track temperature around 40 degrees as the cars headed out for the first 15 minute session. Ralf Schumacher's Toyota was first on the circuit, followed by David Coulthard's Red Bull and the Super Aguri of Takuma Sato. Ralf's first time was a fairly conservative 1:20.567. So conservative that Sato took over by a couple of tenths.
Sato's teammate Franck Montagny posted third and Toro Rosso's Tonio Liuzzi took over at the top. MF1's Tiago Monteiro joined the times and Jarno Trulli's Toyota was next to the top in the 1:17 bracket. Scott Speed put his Toro Rosso second and Christijan Albers' MF1 arrived in fifth. Speed moved to the top but was demoted by Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren.
Christian Klien's Red Bull took second but Coulthard spun across the gravel through turn three and hit the barrier which bought out the red flag. Just over seven minutes remained when the session restarted and only 10 drivers were on the time sheet. The pack quickly took to the track again and Michael moved into second.
Alonso put his Renault to the top of the list and Felipe Massa slotted his Ferrari into second. He lost the place to Fisichella and Jenson Button's Honda followed into third. Mark Webber's Williams took sixth and Trulli improved to fourth. The second Honda of Rubens Barrichello posted fifth.
Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber made the top 10, as did Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren. Nico Rosberg's Williams was on the edge of the drop zone, while Jacques Villeneuve's BMW Sauber jumped up to the top six on his first timed lap. Time ticked away and the first six drivers to be dropped started with Speed in 17th.
The MF1s of Monteiro and Albers were next in line, followed by the Super Aguris of Sato and Montagny so no surprises there really. Coulthard, obviously, was dropped as he'd not set a time before he crashed out. Alonso was at the front, 1:15.816, with Fisichella second and Michael third.
The remaining drivers had their times cleared and Villeneuve was first to be back on track. The Canadian will have to drop 10 places on the grid due to an engine change. His initial time was a 1:16.349. Webber and Liuzzi slotted in behind then Rosberg undercut Villeneuve's top time by a couple of tenths. He dropped in turn to Trulli, Klien and Alonso in quick succession.
Ralf took third and Heidfeld fifth, while Raikkonen clocked second, a couple of tenths down on Alonso. Fisichella managed fourth and Massa took over the second position, then Michael went into the 1:14 bracket and removed Alonso from the top. Barrichello moved into fourth and teammate Button went one better for third.
Montoya just made the top 10 and Ralf was the one on the edge of the drop zone with five minutes to go. Some drivers went in for a tyre change ready for a last attack and Ralf was first to improve, up to fourth. Webber took ninth which, pushed Montoya out of the top 10, and Trulli went up to second.
Montoya couldn't make it on his last flyer and Heidfeld was the last man to reach the final 20 minute shootout in 10th. Webber had been dropped to 11th so was also out, along with Rosberg, Villeneuve, Klien and Liuzzi. Michael's 1:14.637 remained at the top with Fisichella a tenth and a half behind.
The final session got under way with the usual tedious business of burning off fuel. Laps times were in the 1:18 and 1:19 area to start with, Michael leading the way. There were a few changes of position and Massa took over at the top, but there were no serious attempts at a quick lap until well into the final 10 minutes.
Alonso was first in the pits for fresh tyres and the others quickly followed suit. Michael set the first effort, 1:15.862, and Alonso was hot on his heels, a second quicker. Massa took second but was demoted by Fisichella and Raikkonen and Heidfeld improved slightly to seventh and eighth respectively.
There was enough time for another tyre change then the final assault. Alonso put in another scorching lap and clocked 1:14.648 and Fisichella and Massa were second and third. Michael was flying around but it wasn't enough to beat Alonso and he took third off Massa. So the home crowds are ecstatic to see Alonso take his first home pole.
"First pole position in Spain and for sure, a great atmosphere for all the team and for me especially," he said. "I think we all enjoy this qualifying with the people in the grandstand supporting Formula One as a sport, because at the end of the day they are enjoying so much what is a new sport for us in this country and I enjoyed the lap also."
"The important thing today was getting the maximum from the car, get a good qualifying, again with no traffic, no problems and get through the last part of qualifying with no problems and we did our job. We did a good set-up in the car this morning preparing for qualifying and everything works OK."
Fisichella was pleased with second after his recent qualifying problems. "It's nice to be here," he commented. "The Renault performance was very good today. We expected to be really competitive, obviously first and second on the grid tomorrow is a great result... The performance in the Grand Prix tomorrow looks very promising."
Michael was about three tenths off Alonso in the end, with Massa half a second behind. The race looks set to be another battle between Renault and Ferrari and it will be interesting to see what part, if any, Fisichella and Massa will play in the fight between Alonso and Michael. As always, strategy will have a leading role.
"It's all about the strategy, whether you can be disappointed or you should be rather happy," Michael said when asked if he was disappointed. "In general, I think we knew we might have a little sacrifice for qualifying but we have a very strong race pace and that's what we have to concentrate on and that's what we obviously knew when we started the weekend: no surprise."
Barrichello, fifth, outdid Button for the second time, three places ahead of his teammate. Honda looked to have good pace in the practice sessions and Barrichello was about four tenths behind Massa this afternoon. Ralf and Trulli were next -- Ralf actually set an identical time to Barrichello but the Honda man did it first.
From Barrichello to Raikkonen in ninth there was little more than a tenth covering them, although Heidfeld in 10th was a second adrift of the McLaren. Not a good day for the Woking squad -- Montoya missing the final shootout was a disappointment but really Raikkonen was not a great deal better, well over a second off Alonso's final time.
The Circuit de Catalunya is not one of the easiest to overtake on so once again those pit stops are going to be vital. We know Ferrari can work its magic with strategy but will Alonso have a little magic of his own at home? Final top ten classification: Alonso, Fisichella, M. Schumacher, Massa, Barrichello, R. Schumacher, Trulli, Button, Raikkonen, Heidfeld.