Japanese GP: Honda Saturday notes

SATO EXCITES HOME CROWD AT SUZUKA Three Honda-powered drivers qualify in top ten for Japanese Grand Prix DHL Jordan Honda's Takuma Sato qualified in seventh position for tomorrow's grid of the Japanese Grand Prix, his best qualifying performance...

Three Honda-powered drivers qualify in top ten for Japanese Grand Prix

DHL Jordan Honda's Takuma Sato qualified in seventh position for tomorrow's grid of the Japanese Grand Prix, his best qualifying performance of the year. His Jordan Honda team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella will start from eighth place while Lucky Strike B.A.R Honda's Jacques Villeneuve qualified ninth. Olivier Panis (B.A.R Honda) will line up in 16th position.

B.A.R Honda's Jacques Villeneuve was the first of the Honda-powered drivers to take to the track, fifteen minutes into the qualifying hour at Suzuka. His B.A.R Honda team-mate Olivier Panis and the Jordan Honda duo of Giancarlo Fisichella and Takuma Sato waited almost 25 minutes before they began their first qualifying run.

Just over half way through the session Allan McNish (Toyota) spun off the track and crashed through one of the barriers, bringing out the red flags. Thankfully McNish was unhurt and was able to walk away but the car sustained a massive amount of damage and part of the barrier was destroyed. Villeneuve had already completed two runs whereas Panis, Fisichella and Sato had only put in one flying lap before the incident. After a delay of over an hour to repair the barrier and remove the car, the session restarted with just over 24 minutes to go and the majority of the field poured out of the pits to try to improve on their initial times.

Takuma Sato put in a fantastic qualifying session in front of his home crowd, despite having suffered engine failure at the end of morning practice. The Jordan Honda mechanics replaced the entire rear end of his car in 27 minutes and his set-up programme was successfully completed during the second practice session in time for the qualifying hour. The Japanese driver improved on his time with every outing, finally setting a 1m33.090s on his fourth and final flying lap, moving him up to seventh on the grid, to lead the Honda-powered quartet for the first time this year, instigating a roar of delight from the crowd.

Giancarlo Fisichella qualified eighth on the grid, to line up alongside his team-mate Sato, and in the process the pair achieved Jordan Honda's best combined qualifying performance of the year. Like Sato, the Italian completed four qualifying attacks, setting his best time of 1m33.276s on his third outing.

Jacques Villeneuve set his best time on his final attack, placing the B.A.R Honda driver ninth on the grid and marking the first time that three of the four Honda-powered cars have qualified in the top ten. The B.A.R Honda driver aborted his third run as he was blocked by the Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya but went on to set a best time of 1m33.349s on his final outing.

Olivier Panis had a torrid session and seemed to be plagued by a run of bad luck. The Frenchman was blocked by his team-mate on his first run and had to pull over onto the grass on his second outing due to a gearbox problem. Panis swapped to the spare car and completed two further runs, setting his best lap of 1m34.192s on his final outing, placing him in 16th position on the grid.

The weather conditions remained warm and sunny (21 degrees) at Suzuka as Ferrari's Michael Schumacher secured his 50th pole position, followed by team-mate Rubens Barrichello. The McLarens of David Coulthard and Kimi Raikkonen qualified third and fourth while the Williams pairing of Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya complete the top six grid positions.

Shuhei Nakamoto - Race and Test Team Manager, Honda Racing Development

"That was a really dramatic session for everyone and I'm glad Allan's okay after what was a very big shunt. A good lap time around Suzuka really needs the drivers to push very hard and all four of our guys gave it everything. I'm sorry that Olivier couldn't get the same result as the others because of his bad luck. Having three drivers in the top ten will let us really fight tomorrow at our home track and I'm sure that Taku's great show today will mean more people will want to watch the action."

Takuma Sato Position: 7th

"I'm so happy. That was my best qualifying result all season and one of my best moments in a Formula One car. The team made a great recovery after a difficult morning with my engine problem. The mechanics did really well and James (Key), my engineer, did a brilliant job. The car was good, I was comfortable and drove exactly as I wanted to. I just nailed it! The fan support here is superb, they reacted as if I had won the race and it was just qualifying. Realistically the race is still going to be tough, but my target is to score points."

Giancarlo Fisichella Position: 8th

"It's very impressive. I wouldn't have expected us to be 7th and 8th so it's really good for the team. I'm happy for Takuma because it's his home Grand Prix and he did very well. Unfortunately on my last run the automatic downshift went completely mad and I couldn't improve my time. I think there was the possibility to be even better yet, but unfortunately that little problem happened. Anyway, it's been a good day."

Jacques Villeneuve Position: 9th

"That was a huge crash for McNish so I'm pleased he was OK. That's the important thing but the red flag obviously disrupted the session. I had to abort my first run after the restart because Montoya completely blocked me, so it's lucky I managed to get a clear lap on my last run. There was still some time left in the car but not enough time left in the session to make the most of it. Top 10 is good for us today and the Suzuka engine had enough power to make a difference. The team have done a great job to salvage the weekend after yesterday's lack of running. We ended up being more competitive than we expected."

Olivier Panis Position: 16th

"What can I say? I'm really frustrated because this isn't what I'd hoped for at my last Grand Prix with B.A.R. The qualifying session was very difficult anyway but when you get technical problems and cannot exploit your runs, you're up against the wall and there's nothing you can do. I hope the team can resolve the problem so it doesn't occur in the race tomorrow and I will do my best to finish the season on a more positive note."


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