Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella took provisional pole position in the first qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix when he managed to be on track and put in a good lap at the perfect moment. The Italian clocked 1:33.171 on dry tyres, just...
Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella took provisional pole position in the first qualifying session for the Australian Grand Prix when he managed to be on track and put in a good lap at the perfect moment. The Italian clocked 1:33.171 on dry tyres, just seconds before the rain washed out the hopes of the last eight runners.
Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Williams' Mark Webber were also out early and avoided the downpour to take second and third respectively. Ferrari and McLaren could do no more than damage control as they had to endure a soaking track for their laps later on. The grid will be decided on aggregate times after tomorrow morning's session.
Rain prior to first qualifying left the track fairly wet but the rain had stopped by start of the session. Minardi's Christijan Albers was first out on wet tyres and had a difficult lap, but held it together to set the initial time of 1:49.230. Teammate Patrick Friesacher also struggled and was 1.6 slower than Albers.
Narain Karthikeyan had to have the rear end of his Jordan rebuilt after troubles in practice but he put in a determined effort to clock 1:44.357, nearly five seconds up on Albers. The second yellow car of Tiago Monteiro did not fare so well and the Portuguese was over two seconds down on Karthikeyan.
Jenson Button was next, the running order the reverse of the results of the last race of 2004, and the BAR driver went out on intermediate tyres. Unsurprisingly, he took provisional pole by 2.8 seconds, 1:41.512. Nick Heidfeld was the first Williams on the drying track and got a bit out of shape on the grass, but was still 1.8 ahead of Button, 1:39.717.
Heidfeld's teammate Webber was up on the German from the start and was bang on three seconds faster as the track improved, 1:36.717. Christian Klien led out for Red Bull and had a neat and tidy lap for seven tenths slower than Webber. Trulli wasn't ready to risk dry tyres despite the drier line and clocked a creditable 1:35.270, 1.4 up.
David Coulthard also stuck with intermediates but looked a bit conservative and was fourth, seven tenths down on Red Bull teammate Klien. Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve was the first to go out on dry tyres and went off track on his out lap but managed to recover. His flyer was good enough for third but he went off again on his in lap.
Fisichello also had dry tyres and the Italian made it work better to take provisional pole by two seconds, 1:33.171. It was the perfect window for Fisichella as it abruptly started to pour with rain as soon as he finished. Bad luck for Sauber's Felipe Massa, on dry tyres. He had to gingerly tiptoe round in the deluge and couldn't complete his lap.
Michael Schumacher was on intermediates in his Ferrari and already lost over ten seconds by the middle sector. He finished 24 seconds down in 13th. Takuma Sato crashed on his out lap at turn eight in the bad conditions, causing the red flags to come out. He was unharmed but that was his session over.
Ralf Schumacher came out when the track was green and it was still raining. The Toyota was on extreme wet tyres and struggled round to post about five seconds in front of Michael for 13th. Fernando Alonso was a little better and put his Renault 11th. Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari was on a similar pace to Alonso but went one better for 10th.
So, the McLarens were the last to run. Kimi Raikkonen had a reasonable lap, despite some sliding, and managed to get in front of Barrichello for 10th. Final man out was Juan Pablo Montoya and he was slower than his teammate but it was still good enough for 11th, one behind the Finn.
As a result of the rain, the provisional grid positions are certainly not as expected. Fisichella is surely favourite for pole on Sunday, with a comfortable two second advantage -- providing he makes no mistakes on his second qualifying lap, or if the weather doesn't go against him next time.
"I did a very good lap in difficult conditions: the track was still damp in lots of places, and I had to push right to the limit without going over it," said Fisichella. "Running on dry tyres in the damp always makes it difficult to find enough grip, but the car was well balanced for my lap."
Trulli was pleased with such a good start to his first race weekend with Toyota: "We were lucky with the track conditions, but even though I had a benefit, it was still a quick lap compared to the runners who were out in similar conditions."
Webber will sleep well tonight after his efforts: "It was a tricky session today, with the track actually changing before my eyes," he commented. "Not typical Australian weather, really! Anyway I am happy with my lap and I am happy I put it behind me when the track was drying."
The gainers today were the early runners. Red Bull has Coulthard and Klien in the top six, and Williams have Webber and Heidfeld in third and seventh respectively. Jordan also benefited from starting early, Karthikeyan finishing in ninth and Monteiro 13th.
Renault, Toyota and Sauber had split fortunes. Fisichella, as we know, is sitting pretty on provisional pole while Alonso suffered in the rain and was 14th. Trulli and Villeneuve made the most of the early conditions for top four places while Massa didn't set a time in the downpour.
McLaren and Ferrari, like the other late runners, could only do damage control on their laps, although Raikkonen, Montoya and Barrichello's mid-way provisional slots were better than Michael's last place of the timed laps. Button's eighth for BAR was not so bad but Sato was another victim of the rain.
Unless some drivers make some big mistakes tomorrow, or if the weather is equally unpredictable, it's unlikely we'll see any of the usual suspects on pole. But after today's efforts there's no point trying to predict anything. Final top eight classification: Fisichella, Trulli, Webber, Villeneuve, Klien, Coulthard, Heidfeld, Button.