BAR's Jenson Button sprang a surprise in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix when he took pole position with a best time of 1:15.217, and equally unexpected was Ferrari's Michael Schumacher in second place. McLaren and Renault had set the pace...
BAR's Jenson Button sprang a surprise in qualifying for the Canadian Grand Prix when he took pole position with a best time of 1:15.217, and equally unexpected was Ferrari's Michael Schumacher in second place. McLaren and Renault had set the pace in practices and it seemed certain that one of those drivers would be on pole. Renault's Fernando Alonso took third on the grid and it all looks highly promising for a good race.
There was no sign of the predicted rain at the start of the session, the track temperature around 50 degrees, as Red Bull's Christian Klien led out. This is Klien's first qualifying session for four races, as he has been on third driver duties, and going out first is a disadvantage. He clocked 1:18.429, which was a couple of seconds off the practice times.
Williams' Mark Webber, who came to grief at the first corner in the European GP, was next and was half a second up, 1:17.749. Ralf Schumacher, who also didn't finish in Europe, followed on and the Toyota was over a second up in the middle sector. He crossed the line to clock 1:16.362, nearly 1.4 quicker.
Patrick Friesacher was the first Minardi and was over three seconds off the pace, but teammate Christijan Albers had a good effort to get himself fractionally ahead of Klien. Minardi will be very pleased with that. Jordan's Narain Karthikeyan and Tiago Monterio both stayed behind Klien but in front of Friesacher, Karthikeyan ahead.
Felipe Massa put in a tidy lap to go second, just three tenths down on Ralf, and Sauber teammate Jacques Villeneuve had an even better one to take provisional pole with 1:16.116. A good performance from Sauber and an impressive lap from Villeneuve at his home race. However, the heavy-hitters were lining up.
Takuma Sato was the first BAR and, unsurprisingly, took over from Villeneuve; 1:15.729 for nearly four tenths up. Halfway through and only the top four from Massa were within a second. From Webber in provisional fifth to Karthikeyan in eighth the gap to Sato was over two seconds, while Monterio and Friesacher were over three seconds off.
Kimi Raikkonen, who was officially classed as 11th in Europe despite crashing out on the last lap, could not outdo Sato and the McLaren took second. Slightly disappointing after his speed in practices but it depends on his fuel level and race strategy. Button had a storming lap to take provisional pole, 1:15.217 and half a second up on teammate Sato.
Jarno Trulli was nearly a second off the pace and put his Toyota fifth and he was followed by the McLaren of Juan Pablo Montoya, who, like Raikkonen, was very quick in practice. He bettered the Finn to take second after a very good last sector. Another speedy man this morning, Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella took the position off Montoya.
Button's lap was starting to look very good indeed and in the last five it seemed that perhaps only Fernando Alonso could beat the BAR. Michael was next and the track temperature had dropped slightly by the time the Ferrari went out. The team hasn't been entirely happy this weekend but Michael surprised with provisional second.
David Coulthard could only manage 11th, Red Bull struggling at this track, and Rubens Barrichello didn't set a flyer. He returned to the pits after his car was smoking on his out lap, possibly with a gearbox problem. Nick Heidfeld was the penultimate runner and wrestled with the Williams to clock a disappointing 12th.
Alonso had a reasonable lap to take third in the Renault, which may have been surprising after his pace in practices but there seems to be a lot of different strategies going on. Button was reasonably quick this morning but hardly stellar, while Michael wasn't noticeably fast so it could well be that both of them are running lighter fuel than the Renaults and McLarens.
Even Button was not expecting pole: "I was a little bit surprised to be that quick actually," he commented. "This is a huge boost for the team. We've had a few tough months and they've worked exceptionally hard and its great to give them something back."
"The car worked really well, it was reasonably easy to drive and I think we've got a good race package -- we just wait and see what happens tomorrow but this is a good start. We've just got to hope we can keep them behind us in the first few laps of the race when its going to be very close."
Michael professed not to be surprised by his second position. He must be the only person that isn't. "I am not so surprised to be on the front row, because after yesterday, we understood our problems and had a much better car this morning," he remarked.
"As for the race, I am feeling much more confident than at any other moment this season and depending on how the race develops, the long straights mean there are opportunities for overtaking. I do not expect there will be any problems with the track surface tomorrow."
Of course, we'll only find out tomorrow what the strategies are but the pace of the top two was rather unexpected. Other surprises were Villeneuve's impressive eighth on the grid and Albers' equally notable 15th. Williams was disappointing, outside the top ten, and Toyota perhaps lower than one would have thought in ninth and 10th.
Have Michael and Ferrari finally returned to form and has BAR found the performance it's been predicting? It's an impressive qualifying result but how it translates into race results is what really counts. Final top eight classification: Button, M. Schumacher, Alonso, Fisichella, Montoya, Sato, Raikkonen, Villeneuve.