INDIANAPOLIS, September 27, 2003 - Final qualifying for the United States Grand Prix, held for the fourth annual time on the 2.605-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road circuit belonged to Kimi Raikkonen and the West McLaren Mercedes team. The...
INDIANAPOLIS, September 27, 2003 - Final qualifying for the United States Grand Prix, held for the fourth annual time on the 2.605-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road circuit belonged to Kimi Raikkonen and the West McLaren Mercedes team. The 12th driver to take a single flying lap at the vaunted Brickyard track, Raikkonen's lap of 1:11.670 vanquished Rubens Barrichello in the Ferrari by .124 second.
"It doesn't matter how it feels as long as it's the first row, first place," Raikkonen said. "Yesterday and this morning I was not very happy with the car. This has been a difficult weekend for us. After warmup we made very small changes with the car [to get pole position]. The race is long and I still think we have a good strategy. I'm pretty sure we should have a strong race but I don't know. We'll see what happens tomorrow."
Fastest in the second sector Raikkonen noted, "The sectors really don't matter. You need to be quicker in the end." Approaching this penultimate race in a normal manner, the Finn believes "we don't have much to lose. We have more to win than lose so we just need to do our best and hopefully, it's enough to win the race."
The penultimate driver to take a timed lap, Barrichello found the 15-minute warmup session a challenge. "After conditions were different in the warmup, we had to make a little change to the car's setup. We were a bit loose everywhere in the warmup. I was actually hoping for pole," he shrugged, "but the car looked good for the whole time the whole weekend." Barrichello was quickest in the first sector and his lap time was 1:11.794.
With the session held under partly cloudy skies with temperatures of 66 ambient and 88 degrees on the track with wind 17mph from the west, there were new challenges for the drivers. Barrichello is enjoying his role in the championship. "I love the challenges. They all come to me, in a way. I would say the last race that the two contenders were Montoya and Schumacher and all of a sudden you see Kimi on the pole and the other two guys behind. It's all quite open."
The seventh car out on the track, Olivier Panis took third on the grid in his Panasonic Toyota with a tour of 1:11.920. "I'm very happy for the team and for myself. We were quite competitive this morning (he was seventh in both sessions) and just changed small things for qualifying. I think I have a good car for the race and I expect quite a good race, because we look competitive after having bad luck on the qualifying yesterday," due to the weather.
Despite the urgings of a huge contingent of Colombian fans who plastered the grandstands with flags and good wishes from the time the track opened at 7AM, Juan Pablo Montoya's lap of 1:11.948 was good for only fourth spot in the BMW Williams. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner was fastest in the final sector despite "having quite a bit of oversteer in the second and third sectors. This wasn't ideal because I lost about three-tenths there.
"We could have done a little bit better but that's what we've got. I am still confident," Montoya said, "we will have a good race ahead of us. I would really like to please all the South American fans who have come here to support me. I know I have an excellent race car; we've got good power too and this is important."
Ralf Schumacher starts fifth in the second BMW Williams at 1:12.078, after qualifying right after Montoya. He was much slower in the second segment and said, "The car had quite a lot of understeer. The track got a lot better because of the sun but we lost some important track time just before qualifying," spinning in Turn 1 after taking the checkered flag.
Fernando Alonso was the 14th out of the pits in his Mild Seven Renault and copped sixth with a lap of 1:12.087 but he wasn't "100 percent happy. We were very pleased with the runs in the morning," and the Spaniard was fastest in the warmup. "Conditions changed after the morning. We will be strong in the race and our only strategy is to beat all of them!"
Michael Schumacher never set a time in the first practice this morning after going off two minutes into the session. In the second practice, the 5-time World Champion was third but in the warmup he managed sixth. Schumacher's Ferrari will line up in seventh place tomorrow after noon after his lap of 1:12.194 looked, well, quite ordinary.
Schumacher recognized "this was a very average qualifying effort for us. I'm not at all satisfied. We're not sure what went wrong, but we were sliding too much and had no grip. For us, it is important to understand what went wrong today and hopefully, by the end of the race, we can give the fans something to cheer about."
Eighth on the grid belongs to the West McLaren Mercedes of David Coulthard after the veteran turned 1:12.297, never looking on-pace in the run. Obviously disappointed, the Scot thought his teammate's pole was "good for the team. Now we'll see just how our fuel load and tires stack up where other people qualified." He had understeer in Turn 4, "which I was expecting and then, in Turn 8, where I spun in the warmup, I got a bit sideways again and lost some time."
Cristiano da Matta starts ninth in his Panasonic Toyota after clouting the curbs to gain some speed. It didn't work and his best was 1:12.326 which he termed "okay. It was my first lap in this car, ever, so the first time testing this wheel." Da Matta's engine expired in the second morning practice and he was 7th in the warmup but his water temperature was high.
"We had to go for the "T" car on the very last moment, so I lost a little bit because of that, but it's okay. I'm not very happy with that, because it happened a couple of times this year. We need to keep a better eye on that and not let it happen all the time, because it always costs us a little bit," da Matta explained.
Despite being fastest in pre-qualifying yesterday and among the top runners this morning, Jarno Trulli spun off at Turn 11 and damaged his Mild Seven Renault. Good thing he was the last driver to qualify; the team might not have been able to prepare the car in time for Trulli to lap at 1:12.566. "We had just the same car after the incident. We have really good mechanics who gave me basically the same car, but it was a struggle with the wind conditions here."
Jenson Button was faster than his teammate Jacques Villeneuve in twin Lucky Strike BAR Hondas, but not by much. Button qualified 11th in the line at 1:12.695, good for 11th on the grid, while Villeneuve, the 5th driver out lapped at 1:13.050. Villeneuve was "happy with the lap; finally, the car was driveable. We made changes just before qualifying and it worked."
Nick Heidfeld, 6th in the qualifying line took 13th on the grid at 1:13.083 in the Sauber Petronas. "I'm happier with my lap today than I was yesterday in comparable conditions. The car felt better balanced."
Mark Webber's lap of 1:13.269 pushed the Aussie down to 14th grid slot after he had been third in yesterday's pre-qualifying. Of course the Jaguar driver was "not pleased at all with the lap. I had to brake hard in Turn 1 and Turn 4. We struggled with grip and it was a difficult session."
Heinz-Harald Frentzen starts 15th in the second Sauber Petronas at 1:13.447 yet he found "the car was running well. We had a bit of a small problem in Turn 6, where I went a little bit too wide. I lost one- or two-tenths of what I should have gotten, but that is where we are for the moment."
Justin Wilson's lap of 1:13.585 came early in the session as he was third to take a timed lap in the Jaguar. Wilson said it "was okay. I seemed to slide around a lot on the infield section. We were slightly better in the warmup, but here we go."
Giancarlo Fisichella's miserable weekend in the Jordan Ford continues, as the Italian lines up 17th with a lap of 1:13.798. Bothered by engine and gearbox problems since the circuit opened yesterday morning, Fisichella wailed, "Even this morning I had a problem with a gearbox. I did not run enough, so the car was not good in terms of setup. It was very poor grip." His team chose to go "more for the wet conditions in case tomorrow is going to be wet."
Ralph Firman brought the second Jordan Ford to 18th and he remarked, "We've obviously been struggling, but that was a pretty good lap. Jos Verstappen starts 19th in the European Minardi Cosworth and thinks his car "is about the same as yesterday. It doesn't feel very good at all." Nicolas Kiesa is the caboose of the 20-car field in the second Minardi, a full 3.974 seconds behind polesitter Raikkonen. He thought the track was "slippery after all the rain last night."
So the stage is set for the penultimate race in a 16-event campaign for the World Championship. With Raikkonen starting first and lagging Schumacher (7th on the grid) by seven points and Montoya fourth on the grid, just three points behind the German, the complexion of this title chase could change immeasurably in the next 24 hours. The prospect of weather conditions similar to those during pre-qualifying throws another wrench into the plans. It should be another heart-stopping F1 race.