Nick Heidfeld took his maiden pole position in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, and the first pole for Williams for a year, with a best time of 1:30.081. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was just over a tenth behind for second and the Williams of...
Nick Heidfeld took his maiden pole position in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, and the first pole for Williams for a year, with a best time of 1:30.081. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was just over a tenth behind for second and the Williams of Mark Webber was third. This weekend is the first race of the season with the new one session qualifying format.
The good weather at the Nurburgring continued, the track temperature in the high forties at the start of the session. BAR had a tough job on its hands on its return to competition; Takuma Sato and Jenson Button were the first to run, which is always a disadvantage.
BAR chief executive Nick Fry said prior to qualifying that top ten positions would be good, although the race would be unknown territory as the Honda engines are the same ones from Imola and have been out of action for five weeks. No problems so far though.
Sato led out and was a little wide at a couple of corners to post 1:32.926, not a particularly great lap. Button was slightly better to go three tenths up, 1:32.594. Narain Karthikeyan was the first Jordan and had a distinctly wobbly looking lap to clock third, well over three seconds off the pace.
David Coulthard, a retiree in Monaco, was next and the Red Bull driver was down on the BARs until the last sector, then he suddenly picked up the pace and took provisional pole with a 1:32.553. Minardi's Patrick Friesacher followed on and was fourth ahead of Karthikeyan.
The second Red Bull of Tonio Liuzzi was faster than Coulthard in the early part of the lap but had a bit of a moment at the chicane and it cost him. He crossed the line to post third and less than a tenth separated him, Button and Coulthard.
Minardi's Christijan Albers was fractionally behind Karthikeyan for seventh and the second Jordan of Tiago Monteiro had a good lap to take fifth ahead of his teammate and the Minardis. Giancarlo Fisichella was the first Renault out and, unsurprisingly, went fastest, 1:31.566.
A nice tidy lap from Fisichella but there was room for improvement on his time. Jacques Villeneuve couldn't be expected to beat it in a Sauber and he slotted in front of Sato for fifth. Halfway through the session and Fisichella held pole from Coulthard by over a second.
Toyota looked quite good in practices and Jarno Trulli was nearly half a second up through the first sector. He extended his lead to over eight tenths over the line for 1:30.700. The fastest men in practice were in the 1:29 bracket so it was good but maybe not quite enough.
Felipe Massa had a reasonable start to his lap then belted through the last sector to take third, four places ahead of teammate Villeneuve, although 1.5 off Trulli. Rubens Barrichello was fastest of all through the middle but the Ferrari couldn't outdo Trulli and took second.
Michael Schumacher's Ferrari was half a second down in the middle sector and dropped to eight seconds off by the end. A strangely sluggish lap for the reigning champion to take fourth, fractionally behind Fisichella. But was Michael running a heavy fuel load?
Ralf Schumacher was quicker than his brother and took third in the second Toyota, seven tenths down on Trulli. Juan Pablo Montoya, along with McLaren teammate Kimi Raikkonen, was very fast in practices but couldn't beat Trulli, slotting into second two tenths down.
Fernando Alonso was on a similar pace to Montoya initially but dropped a little in the last sector to take third in the Renault -- it seemed that Montoya and Alonso were running heavier than Trulli. Webber's Williams flew round his lap and took provisional pole with a 1:30.368, three tenths up.
Teammate Heidfeld was even quicker through sector one, followed it through in two and hurled it over the line for 1:30.081. It was all down to Raikkonen, the last man to run. The McLaren had a reasonable lap and set the fastest last sector of the lot but had to settle for second.
So, Heidfeld claimed his maiden pole position and the first pole for Williams since Canada 2003. On the face of it Toyota and Williams looked to be running a lighter fuel load than McLaren and Renault so we will have to wait and see how it pans out in the race tomorrow.
"It's fantastic," said Heidfeld. "The first time I've had pole position in Formula One and this is the place I would have wanted it to happen, at my home race. I would have thought it would be tougher for us here, I didn't think we would be able to get pole."
Raikkonen looks set to close the gap to rival Alonso again, Fernando slipping down to sixth compared to Kimi's second. "I am pretty happy with my result as we have a strong position by starting from the front row," said Raikkonen. "The track conditions during the qualifying session were not as good as in the morning. I know I have a good race car and our strategy should be good."
Webber is keeping his fingers crossed for a good start: "It will be a tough race tomorrow and we will see how our tyres behave, since we didn't have much time yesterday to do our homework," he commented. "We need a good start of course and we have a good strategy."
Some had perhaps expected a Ferrari revival this weekend but qualifying is still not great for the reds, Barrichello seventh and Michael 10th. "This morning, I did not feel we were very competitive, but my qualifying lap was quite good, even if it could have been a bit better," Barrichello remarked. "But at least the balance of the car seems good."
BAR did not make its hoped for top ten spots and outside the top five teams it was Massa who was best of the rest in 11th. The race could see some interesting strategies play out and who the winner might be is really anyone's guess. Final top eight classification: Heidfeld, Raikkonen, Webber, Trulli, Montoya, Alonso, Barrichello, R. Schumacher.