Face it, you would, too. Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella did a radio double take -- "pole position?" -- as his crew informed him he had nailed top spot for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium. He turned a lap of 1 minute, 46.308 seconds...
Face it, you would, too. Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella did a radio double take -- "pole position?" -- as his crew informed him he had nailed top spot for Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium. He turned a lap of 1 minute, 46.308 seconds on the 4.3-mile forest course that dates to the 1920s, nearly a tenth of a second ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli. Hey, lookie, an all-Italian front row.
Nearly as unlikely were the Roman's running buddies. Trulli hasn't been in contention for a pole challenge in the past three races, and BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld hasn't been in the final 10 qualifiers since the season's second race in Malaysia. Heidfeld, riding the doomed ship that is his BMW-exiting team, carried his final practice form, quickest, to third best. Only thereafter came driving title challenger Rubens Barrichello of Brawn GP, winner of last weekend's Grand Prix of Europe. Championship leader Jenson Button failed to reach the third of three qualifying sessions. The Englishman was eliminated in the second session, along with fellow big guns Fernando Alonso of Renault and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, who took pole for last weekend's race in Valencia, Spain.
"I don't know; actually, I don't know how," a happily perplexed Fisichella sought to explain. "It's unbelievable. I didn't expect to be on pole position, especially after yesterday. I was sixth and I was quite surprised because there was a lot of understeering. The measurements on the downforce were not good. This morning, we went through the problems and the car was much better straightaway. Then in qualifying session the car was even better than what I expected so I was able to be quickest in Q1, the fourth-quickest in Q2 and pole position in Q3. It's amazing. It's fantastic. I'm so happy about that. I need to thank the team because they did a fantastic job. I'm really, really happy and confident for tomorrow."
With Ferrari fairies dancing in his head, Fisichella nailed the first pole position for the Asian-owned team. The feat met the directive of improvement ordered this season by second-year owner Vijay Mallya, Indian legislator and business magnate. Force India, who switched from Ferrari to Mercedes engines in hopes of a result, are the only team in the series yet to score this season -- or any season. Only at the most recent race, a week ago in Valencia, Spain, did the tail-enders lift themselves to midpack with 10th and 12th finishes by Adrian Sutil and Fisichella, respectively.
In the same week Indian authorities said they didn't see the need to fund a Formula One race -- citing the series as entertainment, not sport -- Italian Fisichella's name emerged as one of many suggested to replace substitute Luca Badoer in injured Felipe Massa's race seat at Ferrari. Fisichella, who was with the team in 2002 and 2003 in its earliest and most stable iteration, as Jordan Grand Prix, hadn't snagged a pole in three seasons. Saturday's pole was the fourth of his career. He -- and Williams F1's Nico Rosberg -- only reached the final qualifying segment with blistering laps in the final moment of Q2.
The three oldest drivers in the field landed among the top four spots. Youngsters in the first half of the grid included only the fast risers. Robert Kubica of BMW Sauber and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen line up on the third row; Toyota's Timo Glock and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, youngest among these vets, take the fourth row. Red Bull's Mark Webber, whose RB5 needed an engine change between final practice and qualifying, and Rosberg hold the fifth row.
Championship leader Button, under fire and bristling for lack of recent stellar results, got no closer to a turnaround when he didn't take the Brawn GP to the final pole run. He was left in the 15-minute second session with 14th quickest time, a 1:45.251, ahead of Heikki Kovalainen's 1:45.259 for McLaren. Little solace that he was joined by Alonso, Spain's double world champion, Hamilton, current holder of the world driving title. Not only that, but although he, too, did not reach the third qualifying session, Force India's Adrian Sutil was faster than all three of those headliners. The German lines up 11th next to Hamilton. Alonso and Button hold the seventh row. Kovalainen lines up next to Toro Rosso's now veteran rookie, Sebastien Buemi.
Button seemed befuddled to be nearly a half-second slower than his teammate. Alonso noted the R29 has been off pace all weekend. Hamilton cited the MP4-24's slow middle sectors. They seemed to agree the softer compound Bridgestone didn't give the grip sought.
Fisichella, wearing hard tires, topped the first session in 1:45.1 ahead of Trulli and Barrichello, then came Sutil and the Red Bulls of Webber and Vettel. Three slowest in the session were Kubica, Alonso and Hamilton.
Toyota raced to the top of timesheets in the first session, Heidfeld ultimately quickest. Toyota's announcement to close its California factory, the one it runs with General Motors and the one that becomes the world's leading carmaker's first such closure, adds to drama offered by rumors that the F1 team is under series pullout threat and must win before the end of the season to justify continued existence.
Perhaps fittingly, with Badoer clouting a wall and yellow flags springing forth, the five drivers knocked out of the 20-minute first session were the youngsters -- Alonso, Hamilton and Kubica having nipped to the checkered. Both Toro Rosso drivers, Buemi and rookie, rookie Jaime Alguersuari, Williams F1 junior Kazuki Nakajima, Renault debutante Romain Grosjean and Badoer, at 38 technically the senior driver in the field but for whom everything old is new again, were left behind after one qualifying session on a track calling for nail-hard and extra-sharp experience.
Badoer has posted Ferrari's worst consecutive qualifying sessions in the elimination format. Honorable as it is to reward their veteran test driver with the race seat, the scuderia must be considering finding someone faster.
Webber wore a black armband to honor fellow Aussie racer Frank Gardner, who died Saturday at the age of 78. Take a moment now, everyone of a Certain Age, to recall the Tasman series and Gardner taking the fight to the greats who trundled down from Europe for a bit of racing between water skiing, cricket and flying lessons: Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, et al. Well-rounded athlete and racer, Gardner featured in F1 briefly but was especially remembered for the Tasman and F2 series.