Alonso gives Renault home pole for French GP

Alonso gives Renault home pole for French GP

Just like he did last year, Fernando Alonso gave Renault pole position at the team's home race in France, clocking a best of 1:14.412 in qualifying at Magny Cours. Toyota's Jarno Trulli will line up alongside his former teammate in second, ...

Just like he did last year, Fernando Alonso gave Renault pole position at the team's home race in France, clocking a best of 1:14.412 in qualifying at Magny Cours. Toyota's Jarno Trulli will line up alongside his former teammate in second, while McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was third fastest but will drop ten places due to an engine change yesterday.

Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Toyota's Ralf Schumacher was out first, as he missed Indianapolis due to an accident in practice. The conditions were still cool and overcast as Ralf started the proceedings with a 1:15.771 and Red Bull's David Coulthard followed into second, over six tenths down. The Williams of Nick Heidfeld was slightly quicker to take the second spot.

Christian Klien was about a tenth slower than teammate Coulthard for fourth and Jacques Villeneuve was the first Sauber out. The Canadian had a very good middle sector and just scraped ahead of Ralf by seven hundredths, 1:15.699. McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya also flew through the middle sector and clocked 1:15.406 for provisional pole.

Felipe Massa was fractionally up in the first sector then fell back through the middle, but it was enough to take the second slot from Sauber teammate Villeneuve. Mark Webber slotted his Williams into fifth, the Grove squad not having a great time so far this weekend. Takuma Sato led out for BAR and set fastest sectors across the board for 1:14.655, over seven tenths up on Montoya.

Alonso had the crowd on its feet as he took provisional pole with a 1:14.412 -- a very good lap but would he stay there with the track improving and the Ferraris last to run? Teammate Giancarlo Fisichella, the fastest man in the last practice, couldn't match Alonso's pace and slotted into third behind Sato.

Jenson Button.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Jenson Button was off the pace of the front runners and put his BAR fourth in front of Montoya. Raikkonen was up next but has to take on board the penalty for having an engine change yesterday. The McLaren man was a tenth and half off Alonso for second, so he's looking at a midfield start.

Trulli was the last of the Michelin runners that opted out of Indy, having qualified on pole in America, and was fractionally faster than Raikkonen to take second. Minardi's Patrick Friesacher, the last finisher in sixth at Indianapolis, was, unsurprisingly, the slowest yet, three and a half seconds off Alonso.

His teammate Christijan Albers very nearly lost the car in the middle sector he was pushing so hard, which lost him some time. He was a few tenths slower than Friesacher. Jordan's Narain Karthikeyan also had a bit of a slide in the middle sector but was quicker to clock 15th. Teammate Tiago Monteiro split the Minardis with 17th.

The Ferraris were the final runners and Rubens Barrichello was fractionally up on Alonso through the first two sectors but he lost it all in the last to clock fifth. Michael Schumacher did a slightly better lap but could only manage fourth, so the Ferraris were surprisingly not on the front row at all.

Reflection of Michael Schumacher.
Photo by xpb.cc.

So, Alonso put Renault on pole position at the team's home race, his third pole of the season. A good effort from Trulli to start alongside in second but Raikkonen will have to go back down to 13th. Everyone from Michael to Webber will therefore be promoted one place on the grid.

"The car has felt really good all weekend, after our work in testing last week in Jerez, and the balance was very stable on my lap, so I could attack all the way without any mistakes," said Alonso.

"Looking to tomorrow, I know that we have a good chance to improve the situation in the championship as Kimi will be starting quite far back, so I will be trying to score as many points as possible -- but I also expect Ferrari, Toyota and McLaren to be very fast."

Trulli was a little surprised to be on the front row. "I'm very happy with my lap because it was very clean and very quick," he said. "The car has been handling well all day, which I have to say was a bit of a surprise."

"Yesterday I wasn't very happy with my set-up, and we were struggling. But we changed that all around this morning, found a new direction and found a much stronger grip level. The car is working well now."

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Raikkonen expects a tough race from his low grid position but is still gunning for the podium. "The car is working well, and there is really nothing more to do than wait for tomorrow to see what we can achieve in the race," he commented. "I'm confident that we have a competitive package and a strong strategy, so points and even a podium are not out of reach."

Obviously Raikkonen's demotion helped Michael a little. "We felt we could do well here and I will now be starting from third on the grid which is a good position, even though I had hoped to be fighting for pole," said the German. "Even so, this is a better position than we have found ourselves in at most of the races so far this season."

It promises to be a very interesting race tomorrow and there's no clear favourite for the win. Alonso looks good but while the Ferrari might not be up to the Renault's performance, the Scuderia is no slouch in the strategy department. Trulli in second has as much as chance as the others and there's some fast guys coming from behind the first couple of rows.

The McLarens, in particular, will be aiming to cut through the pack and the BARs have looked fairly on the pace so far this weekend. The disappointment had to be Williams, Webber and Heidfeld down in 13th and 14th. Final top eight classification: Alonso, Trulli, Raikkonen, M. Schumacher, Sato, Barrichello, Fisichella, Button.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan