Changing track conditions at Spa-Francorchamps caught out Benson and Hedges Jordan Honda when Jean Alesi and Jarno Trulli slipped down the order in the final minute and qualified 13th and 16th for the Belgian Grand Prix. A heavy shower of rain ...
Changing track conditions at Spa-Francorchamps caught out Benson and Hedges Jordan Honda when Jean Alesi and Jarno Trulli slipped down the order in the final minute and qualified 13th and 16th for the Belgian Grand Prix. A heavy shower of rain minutes before the start of the hour-long qualifying session meant the track was going to get faster as it dried out. The question was, by how much? After a wait of about 20 minutes, all of the 22 drivers posted lap times using intermediate wet weather tyres, Alesi getting as high as sixth on the grid. Then, in the final minute, the racing line suddenly became dry enough to sustain dry weather grooved tyres.
'I'm very disappointed with my grid position,' said Alesi. 'I went out with the intermediate tyres at the end and I really believe now that I could have gone quicker on dry-weather tyres. When it's like that, it's always a gamble and it went wrong from that moment. It's very important now to prepare the car for the race and I am looking forward to scoring my first points for Jordan.'
'I was out on the wrong tyres at the wrong time, and that's the reason why I am so far behind everybody' said Trulli. 'I was pretty competitive in the wet but then unfortunately we didn't change to dry-weather tyres and suddenly we were much slower as a result. We didn't read the changing track conditions very well.'
'We didn't think it was going to dry enough for dry tyres and neither did the drivers,' said Trevor Foster, joint managing director. 'I think it was the very last lap which did the damage. On the penultimate lap, the dry tyres had been about three seconds slower but the track must have dried dramatically in the last few minutes. Neither driver thought it would have been the right decision to go to dries.
'We were ready in the pit lane with grooved tyres but we can only go by the evidence we see on the monitors and that, as I say, didn't indicate that dries were the way to go. We can't make the final call and the drivers thought it wasn't dry enough, so they went out again on intermediates for the last lap but that's when everyone suddenly went quicker. Until then we had been looking good. The set-up on the cars had been good, there were no problems. We were just caught out.'
It was in the final minute that Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher shot to the top of the time sheet, both Williams drivers gambling on the late switch to dry tyres. Not even Michael Schumacher, third fastest for Ferrari, could match the Williams pair. The unusual circumstances produced an unfamiliar grid, Heinz-Harald Frentzen qualifying fourth for Prost.
Neither McLaren driver made the switch to dry tyres, Mika Hakkinen taking seventh place with David Coulthard ninth. Eddie Irvine was 17th fastest for Jaguar for the same reason.