Fernando Alonso took an unexpected pole position for the French Grand Prix, posting 1:13.698 to take the front of the grid. The Renault man set his pole time with four cars still to run but nobody could top his effort. Renault has been on the pace...
Fernando Alonso took an unexpected pole position for the French Grand Prix, posting 1:13.698 to take the front of the grid. The Renault man set his pole time with four cars still to run but nobody could top his effort. Renault has been on the pace this weekend but pole is a little bit of a surprise. Michael Schumacher's Ferrari took second on the grid and McLaren's David Coulthard finished a good third.
The track temperature was around 35 degrees as Schumacher started proceedings in the first session and the Ferrari clocked 1:13.541 -- the fastest time of the weekend so far and nearly a second faster than Kimi Raikkonen's best in the practice sessions. A superb start by the six-time champion.
Schumacher's teammate Rubens Barrichello failed to leave the pits due to a hydraulic problem, so BAR's Takuma Sato was next on the track. The Japanese posted half a second off the pace of the Ferrari. Renault's Jarno Trulli was next up and he managed to close the gap to Schumacher to four tenths, second fastest.
Olivier Panis, the local hero, posted fourth for Toyota and was followed by Raikkonen in the revised McLaren MP4-19B. The Finn slotted into second fastest, just under two tenths off Schumacher's provisional pole time. McLaren teammate Coulthard bettered Raikkonen by about eight hundredths to take the second spot.
Minardi's Zsolt Baumgarter, who gave the little Faenza squad something to cheer about in America, was next up. Unsurprisingly the Minardi was over four seconds off the pace of provisional pole. Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella only beat Baumgartner by one place. Mark Webber was the first Jaguar out and was equally disappointing, posting seventh ahead of Fisichella.
Jordan's Nick Heidfeld slotted into ninth and Jenson Button put the BAR fourth, just over two tenths off Schumacher's best. Cristiano da Matta put in a good lap in the Toyota for seventh and the second Renault of Alonso was next. The Spaniard beat teammate Trulli by a couple of tenths to take fourth.
Jaguar's Christian Klien also beat his teammate, taking tenth one spot ahead of Webber. Felipe Massa's Sauber managed a reasonable 10th, ahead of both Jaguars and teammate Fisichella. Jordan's Giorgio Pantano beat Heidfeld by one place for 14th and the second Minardi of Gianmaria Bruni took 16th.
The Williams pair of Juan Pablo Montoya and Marc Gen? were last to run and Montoya made the most of it. The Colombian took provisional pole with 1:13:377, over a tenth and a half up on Schumacher. Gen? managed ninth to close the pre-qualifying session.
Barrichello kicked off the second, all important session, with a change of the hydraulics system and clocked a reasonable 1:14.478. Baumgartner was well over three seconds off the pace and Bruni beat his teammate by a couple of tenths. Heidfeld bettered both Minardis for provisional second but Pantano ran wide at Estoril. He recovered to post fourth, also ahead of the Minardis.
Fisichella managed a good second fastest but over a second and a half off Barrichello and Webber took the same spot on his lap, just three tenths off the Ferrari. Klien slotted into third behind teammate Webber and Massa posted fifth, just a couple of hundredths behind Fisichella.
Panis managed a creditable fourth and da Matta went even better; second quickest and just seven hundredths off Barrichello. Gen? made his presence felt by taking provisional pole with a 1:14.275, marking the start of the heavy hitters. Sato made up a lot of time in the last sector and grabbed the top slot with 1:14,240, a marginal improvement on the Williams.
Trulli took it down even more, 1:14.070 despite a lock up or two, which paved the way for even better times. Button hooked it up by seven hundredths and took provisional pole, 1:13.995, the first into the 1:13 bracket. Alonso did it even better, 1:13.698, despite a bit of understeer, but Raikkonen ran wide early in his lap and ended sixth, a disappointing result.
Coulthard couldn't beat Alonso but managed second, just under three tenths off provisional pole. Schumacher was already two tenths up in sector one, dropped slightly in the middle and couldn't pick it up, ending second 0.27 off Alonso. The final runner was Montoya but he could only manage sixth after a poor third sector.
A bit of a surprising result for Alonso; Renault has been on the pace this weekend but pole position didn't really seem likely. The Spaniard pulled out a good lap at the right time and it was enough to take the honours. Whether Alonso can translate it into a win is another matter -- the front runners all look quite strong so far and Schumacher in second has to be a big threat. Renault's rocketing starts should give Alonso an advantage in the race but Ferrari's exemplary pit stop strategy should give Schumacher the same later on.
The new McLaren looks to be an improvement. Coulthard's third was a just reward, although Raikkonen struggled in the final session. Button kept up BAR's performance and Williams, although a bit lacking, was not too far off the pace. Barrichello in 10th is a bit of a strange one… Final top eight classification: Alonso, M. Schumacher, Coulthard, Button, Trulli, Montoya, Sato, Gen?.