Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello scored his second consecutive pole position in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, clocking 1:34.012 to head the field. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was just over a tenth behind to line up alongside in second and BAR's...
Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello scored his second consecutive pole position in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, clocking 1:34.012 to head the field. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was just over a tenth behind to line up alongside in second and BAR's Jenson Button was just a further tenth down for third. Sauber's Felipe Massa put in a fine effort for fourth. Michael Schumacher, you ask? The champion spun at the first corner and will start from the back.
The conditions were good, with the track temperature around 40 degrees at the start of pre-qualifying and the air temperature some 10 degrees lower. Barrichello, winner at Monza, led out in the first session and clocked a quick 1:33.787 to start the proceedings -- just about one hundredth faster than he went in the last practice session.
Michael followed on and took over with a 1:33.185, six tenths up for the fastest lap of the weekend so far. Button couldn't compete with the Ferrari pace and the BAR finished just over a second down. Teammate Takuma Sato, who will suffer a 10 place grid demotion due to a blown engine on Friday, was a little quicker to post third.
Juan Pablo Montoya was the first Williams out and went ahead of both BARs for third, a couple of tenths behind Barrichello. David Coulthard led McLaren's challenge but couldn't get ahead of the BARs. Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella had a great flyer to take second and split the Ferraris, half a second down on Michael.
Mark Webber had been ruing Jaguar's lack of straight line speed after practices but managed to edge just ahead of Coulthard for seventh. His top speed down the long straight was 320 kmph compared to Barrichello at just over 330 kmph. Toyota seemed to be on a reasonable pace in the practices but Ricardo Zonta was 1.7 off provisional pole in ninth.
Massa couldn't quite match teammate Fisichella but managed a good fourth, just three hundredths behind Barrichello. Sauber has often shown good pace in pre-qualifying but could the pair match it in the final session? So far so good for Bridgestone, its partner teams taking the top four spots.
Christian Klien was next to run and his Jaguar was over two seconds off the pace, the slowest yet. He was followed by Jordan's Nick Heidfeld, who was sixth in the last practice. He couldn't match that but was pretty good to get ahead of both Klien and Zonta for 10th. Zsolt Baumgartner was the first Minardi and was over four seconds off the pace after a mistake at the last corner. He had a precautionary engine change prior to qualifying, so will be at the back anyway.
Fernando Alonso was the first Renault and was a rather disappointing tenth and the second Minardi of Gianmaria Bruni posted one place ahead of Baumgartner. Kimi Raikkonen had a storming last sector to put his McLaren second, three tenths down on Michael. Olivier Panis was much better than Toyota teammate Zonta and took eighth.
Williams' Ralf Schumacher started his first qualifying since Indianapolis with a reasonable sixth, one place ahead of teammate Montoya. Jacques Villeneuve went out in the Renault for his first qualifying for nearly a year made a good effort to get ahead of Alonso for 13th.
Jordan's Timo Glock, in only his second qualifying this season, was the last runner and split the Minardis with 19th. A good first session for Ferrari and Sauber and Williams was also looking healthy. The top ten were covered by a second and at the front it was Michael from Raikkonen and Fisichella. Renault appeared to come off worst, with both cars outside the top ten.
Conditions remained about the same as Baumgartner started the all-important final session and was just over 1:40. Glock followed on and managed a 1:37.140, which was near enough exactly the same as his pre-qualifying effort. Bruni spun his Minardi in turn three, which ruined his lap and he aborted to the pits.
Klien had reasonable middle and last sectors to clock 1:36.535, six tenths up on Glock but not enough for anything more than a midfield start. Zonta was faster through all three sectors and posted 1:35.410 to take provisional pole by over a second. Heidfeld again had a good lap and put himself ahead of Klien, although a second off Zonta.
Alonso managed 1:34.917 to take over from Zonta by nearly half a second but it was less than one would expect from the Spaniard. Villeneuve slotted into second, four and a half tenths astray but not a bad effort from the Canadian. Coulthard started off well, a tenth up on Alonso, then lost out slightly but it was enough for second, a tenth off.
Webber was fastest through the first sector but had a wobbly moment at turn seven. He kept it going and took third but the slip probably cost him a couple of places. Button was up next and had a flyer to take provisional pole by over six tenths, 1:34.295. Panis followed on and also had a belter of a lap to take third ahead of Coulthard.
Sato finished fractionally behind Panis for fourth but will, of course, have to drop ten places on the grid from his final position. Montoya seemed rather lacklustre to take sixth, almost a second off Button, but Ralf was better and clocked second, fractionally ahead of Alonso. From Ralf to Coulthard in sixth, there was just 0.13 between them.
Massa had a very fast first sector, three tenths up on Button, and although he lost out afterwards it was good enough for second, ahead of the likes of Ralf and Alonso. Barrichello managed to shift Button from the top with nearly a three tenth advantage, 1:34.012, and next was Fisichella. He couldn't match teammate Massa and took sixth.
That left Raikkonen and Michael to run. The Finn was out first and clocked second, a tenth and a half down on Barrichello. Michael set off on his lap and promptly spun into the gravel at turn one! He got back on track but that was it and he will start tomorrow's race from the back of the grid.
"It's the first time it's happened to me. We need to find the explanation for it which we haven't done yet," said Michael, who is not about to give in without a fight. "You know in Formula One you should never give up. If you know me, I never do."
So, Barrichello is on pole for the Chinese Grand Prix, with Raikkonen starting alongside on the front row. "I guess we had a pretty good run, I think it was a good lap," said Rubens. "For pole, I don't know if Michael was going to be able to beat that but it was good enough and I’m happy. The balance of the car was quite good, but I guess the competition is quite hard as well so it’s going to be a close fight tomorrow."
Raikkonen made a small mistake on his lap but not enough to matter. "Today I was a bit unhappy with the car in the morning but then we improved it quite a lot for first qualifying and the second was quick also, but I got a little bit out of shape coming onto the straight on the last lap but I don't think I lost enough to get first place, so I'm happy with second place," he commented.
Button struggled with his set up this morning, so was happy with his third place grid spot. "Today has not been the easiest day," he admitted. "I haven't found the right set-up until qualifying, really. We have been improving the car but it hasn’t quite been there. Today in qualifying when I did that lap time I was very happy."
Massa's effort was applause-worthy -- the young Brazilian is really doing well lately and fourth was a fine result. Ralf's fifth was reasonable enough but Montoya's 11th was disappointing. Alonso came back well to take a top six start and Fisichella in seventh, combined with Massa's fourth, gives Sauber its best qualifying result of the season.
"Congratulations to Felipe and to Giancarlo, and thanks to Bridgestone for providing us with such a competitive tyre," said team boss Peter Sauber. "And we must not forget too that this result was only possible because of the whole team's diligent and successful development of the Sauber Petronas C23."
While it was a good final qualifying session, the grid positions can't predict what to expect from the race. A new circuit, tyre choice, fuel loads and strategy to take into account -- there's too many variables. Michael won't stay at the back for long, that's for sure, but who will end up in front? Final top eight classification: Barrichello, Raikkonen, Button, Massa, R. Schumacher, Alonso, Fisichella, Panis.