Renault took the fight to Ferrari in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix and Jarno Trulli claimed his maiden pole position on Monte Carlo's streets. Renault had been looking very strong all weekend and Trulli's pole time made him the only ...
Renault took the fight to Ferrari in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix and Jarno Trulli claimed his maiden pole position on Monte Carlo's streets. Renault had been looking very strong all weekend and Trulli's pole time made him the only driver under the one minute 14 seconds; 1:13:983. Ralf Schumacher posted the second fastest time but due to his engine change on Thursday he will be demoted ten places on the starting grid for the race.
Another fine performance from BAR's Jenson Button in third, so he will start from the front row in second due to Ralf's penalty, and Fernando Alonso cemented Renault's good day with fourth, moving up to third for the grid. Michael Schumacher was relegated to fifth and Rubens Barrichello to seventh on the time sheet, the Ferrari pair split by a notable effort from McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen.
Conditions were fine and dry, track temperature up to the mid forties with air temperature some 20 degrees lower. Prior to qualifying the Monaco pit lane was even more glamorous than usual as actors from the Hollywood movie Ocean's 12 visited the Jaguar team. For a short while even F1 was overshadowed as George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon were surrounded by the media.
On to the main event, and Michael Schumacher started proceedings. The Ferrari clocked 1:15.927, nearly two seconds down on his fastest in practice. Barrichello was almost half a second up by sector two and over it by the time he crossed the line with a 1:15.329. Trulli was the first Renault out and was quicker still, 1:14.993, carrying through the quick pace he showed in the morning.
Alonso had a blinding middle sector and took provisional pole with a 1:14.816, Renault certainly looking good in the preliminary session. Takuma Sato set the best first sector time but fell just short of Alonso to take second for BAR, a tenth down. Ralf, last year's pole man, was also up in sector one and made it stick for the rest of his flyer, 1:14.483, the Williams improving to three tenths quicker by the end.
Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella was on the pace until the third sector but it was still good enough for second, just a thousandth ahead of Alonso. Button demoted the Italian, again by a small margin, the top four now separated by only three tenths. Fisichella's teammate Felipe Massa managed eighth, splitting the two Ferraris, who were being pushed down the times.
David Coulthard was the first McLaren out and had a very good lap to take the popular second slot, narrowing the gap to Ralf to two and a half tenths. Teammate Raikkonen promptly went quicker, 0.17 off the Williams. Mark Webber was coping with his Jaguar's tendency to burst into flames this weekend -- the team moved his engine into the spare car, which does not count as a penalty, but he only managed 12th. Cristiano da Matta put his Toyota 11th, ahead of Michael, and Jordan's Giorgio Pantano clocked 14th, three seconds from provisional pole.
Juan Pablo Montoya could only manage ninth in the second Williams, half a second off Ralf's pace. Christian Klien was on a similar pace to teammate Webber, slotting into 15th behind the Australian, and Toyota's Olivier Panis, a previous Monaco winner, clocked 10th. Nick Heidfeld took 17th ahead of teammate Pantano and the two Minardis landed at the back, Zsolt Baumgartner ahead of Gianmaria Bruni.
Bruni led out in the final session, he and Baumgartner still similarly paced, with Zsolt again in front. Pantano was some three seconds up, 1:17.443, and Heidfeld better still, a second up on Pantano -- a good effort from Nick, posting 1:16.488. Klien was on Heidfeld's pace initially and improved as he went on, 1:15.919, half a second up.
Webber shaved just under two tenths off Klien's time, 1:15.725, and Michael was next out after being shuffled down to 14th at the end of the first session. He wasn't mucking around this time and took provisional pole by over a second, 1:14.516 -- but there was room for improvement. Da Matta couldn't beat the Jaguars and took fourth and Massa got it a bit wrong at the seafront chicane, posting fifth. Barrichello was two tenths down on Michael for second.
Panis managed fourth, ahead of teammate da Matta, and Montoya had some tweaks on his Williams between sessions. It didn't improve the performance enough though, and the Colombian took third, half a second down on Michael. Trulli was up in the second sector and absolutely belted the Renault through the last to take provisional pole by half a second, 1:13.983.
Sato was on it but he locked up at the exit of the tunnel, losing time to slot into fourth. Alonso was marginally up in one, then lost a little in two, but it was enough to beat the Ferraris and take second. Fisichella lost some of his earlier pace but was a reasonable seventh, well ahead of teammate Massa. Button was slightly up in sector one but down in the middle, however it was enough to split the Renaults as he took second. Coulthard couldn't hold the pace of the front runners and posted seventh.
Raikkonen was the penultimate runner and bettered his McLaren teammate to split the Ferraris, fifth, and Ralf was the last to set his flyer. The Williams posted an excellent second fastest but due to the penalty he will start 12th -- a shame for Ralf. "Well, we made the best of it with the car, it was handling well, but it's going to be tough starting from 12th," he said. Montoya finished tenth.
A well deserved pole position for Jarno Trulli, Renault is looking good in Monte Carlo with Alonso qualifying fourth. "I'm pretty impressed with lap time, I couldn't believe I went under the one 14!" Exclaimed Trulli. "In Monaco, being on pole, I'm so, so pleased. I'm sure tomorrow will be a tough race but at the moment I'm enjoying today."
Renault executive director of engineering Pat Symonds is confident for tomorrow. "Monaco's a hugely tactical race, it's very difficult to overtake," he said. "But we made good improvements in testing for this race and it's pretty much worked out the way we wanted. Jarno's a great qualifier and he's been good in the races this year, I think the win is possible."
Another great performance for Button and Sato had the pace to be near the front as well if it wasn't for his lockup. "I'd been struggling in sector two, understeer in the slow corners, and I was losing a bit of time, but I think we cured that," said Button.
Michael was demoted to fifth and Barrichello to seventh, which won't please Ferrari, although they too will start one place higher. Having three cars ahead of Michael, if they stay there at the start, will surely interfere with Ferrari's race winning first pit stops.
"We must never underestimate Michael but we've made it tough for him tomorrow," said technical director Ross Brawn. "The car's very good but the qualifying position means he's going to have work hard tomorrow -- it's a challenge."
Renault has already proven it's very fast off the line but will Ferrari have a strategy up its sleeve? And the Scuderia has Button to negotiate as well if it wants to see Michael claim a record-breaking sixth consecutive win at the start of a season. Final top eight classification: Trulli, Button, Alonso, M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Barrichello, Sato, Coulthard.