European GP: Michelin Friday qualifying report

RÄIKKÖNEN FLIES -- IN THE NICK OF TIME Michelin title contender grabs provisional pole; rain makes life uncomfortable for half the field Michelin has made a flying start to the Grand Prix of Europe. During the opening morning's free practice...

RÄIKKÖNEN FLIES -- IN THE NICK OF TIME
Michelin title contender grabs provisional pole; rain makes life uncomfortable for half the field

Michelin has made a flying start to the Grand Prix of Europe. During the opening morning's free practice session its partner teams set the top nine times -- and the company's performance advantage was further highlighted during the first qualifying session. Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren-Mercedes/Michelin) set fastest time -- a 1m 29.989s -- and his top spot was assured when it began raining halfway through the session.

That compromised the chances of Michelin runners Olivier Panis (Toyota) and Mark Webber (Jaguar), who set the quickest two times this morning. Räikkönen, who has the opportunity this season to be Formula One's youngest title-holder, is fighting to reclaim the world championship points lead he lost two weeks ago to Michael Schumacher (Ferrari).

Schumacher qualified second fastest today, ahead of BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher -- who is chasing a third consecutive Formula One pole position this weekend.

Of the other Michelin stars, David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) was sixth ahead of Jarno Trulli (Renault, seventh) and Fernando Alonso (Renault, eighth). The remainder ran later in the session, by which time the track was soaked. Webber was 12th, despite a couple of moments -- one of which caused him to bypass the final chicane. Panis (17th) was the first driver to venture out on deep-treaded wets. Antonio Pizzonia (Jaguar) slithered around in 18th place and Cristiano da Matta (Toyota) aborted his lap after a spin.

The session had to briefly interrupted to allow officials to retrieve Jacques Villeneuve's B*A*R-Honda after the French-Canadian spun off at the Dunlop-Kurve. Villeneuve's team-mate Jenson Button was the only other driver to experience a significant problem: he broke his nose wing after clipping a chicane market cone.

Michelin's day: Pascal Vasselon -- F1 project Manager

RING OF BRIGHT WATER
Michelin set the pace on the opening day of the Grand Prix of Europe meeting at the Nürburgring. In this morning's free practice session Olivier Panis (Toyota) led the way as Michelin annexed the top nine positions. During the afternoon's official qualifying session Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren-Mercedes/Michelin) grabbed provisional pole position. Michelin cars took six of the top eight places -- but a heavy mid-session downpour prevented several drivers, including Panis and Mark Webber (Jaguar), from posting representative lap times. Michelin's F1 project manager Pascal Vasselon said: "Our dry-weather tyres are extremely well suited to the Nürburgring -- I think this morning's session highlighted that. We were only 0.03 seconds away from a top-ten clean sweep."

TAKE FIVE
Although Michelin originally planned to offer four dry-weather tyre options at the Nürburgring, it ultimately decided to bring five. Pascal Vasselon said: "This morning, when our partner teams were totally dominant, they used four of the five options -- and I think it is likely we will see at least three of those used in the race."

THE SONG REMAINS THE SAME
Subtle track changes at the Nürburgring have not altered Michelin's approach to the GP of Europe. Pascal Vasselon said: "The modifications are quite localised and appear designed to smooth out a few bumps. The options we have brought are the result of data gleaned at last year's corresponding fixture and recent tests conducted at Silverstone, Jerez and Paul Ricard."

TESTING, TESTING
In addition to its pace-setting performance today, Michelin was also encouraged by some of the work done during this morning's pre-practice test. Pascal Vasselon said: "Our partners Jaguar and Renault got through plenty of work during the two-hour session and were able to evaluate new tyre developments that might be used during future grands prix."

-michelin-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams