Montoya on the front row World championship leader Michael Schumacher notched up his first pole position of the season during qualifying for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix. The Ferrari star, who is chasing his third consecutive win at Sepang...
Montoya on the front row
World championship leader Michael Schumacher notched up his first pole position of the season during qualifying for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix. The Ferrari star, who is chasing his third consecutive win at Sepang and a record-equalling fifth F1 title,just had the edge in a close battle with the Michelin-shod BMW WilliamsF1 team of Juan Pablo Montoya. In searing heat, with track temperatures reaching 40degC, the German posted a best lap of 1m 35.266s on his second qualifying run to pip Montoya by just 0.231s. The Malaysian GP was first staged in 1999 and Ferrari has yet to be beaten in a race at the Sepang circuit.
Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) lapped in 1m 35.891s in the final seconds of the one-hour session to pip Montoya's team-mate Ralf Schumacher to third place on the grid. Montoya said: "It is a bit frustrating because if you add all my fastest sector times togethyer I might have taken pole, but that's the way it goes. The car felt really good."
Cars running on Michelin tyres took six of the top 10 places. The West Mercedes-powered McLarens of Kimi Räikkönen and David Coulthard will line up fifth and sixth respectively. The young Finn has outqualified his experienced Scottish counterpart at only the second attempt, although there was only 0.09 seconds between them. Coulthard has lost lots of valuable track time this weekend. He had an electrical problem yesterday and then spun off the track in this morning's final free practice session. Jenson Button (Renault F1) qualified eighth and, after scoring a point in Toyota's maiden F1 race in Australia two weeks ago, Mika Salo gave the team another boost by rounding off the top 10. "I am very happy. To have our first ever top 10 qualifying is good for the team. We have a strong race car and when you start from tenth position you are actually in the race, so we have a good opportunity to score more points tomorrow." said Mika.
Jarno Trulli (Renault F1, 12th) was quickest of the remaining Michelin runners, ahead of Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar Racing, 17th), Allan McNish (Panasonic Toyota Racing, 19th), Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing, 20th), Mark Webber (KL Minardi Asiatech, 21st) and Alex Yoong (KL Minardi Asiatech, 22nd). McNish has had several technical problems during the weekend and was forced to qualify the team's spare car after his own developed a fault before he had completed a single lap.
Although temperatures will remain high tomorrow, forecasters say there is the likelihood of the race being affected by rain showers.
Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director)
The best Michelin car was third on the grid here last season, second this time. That's progress, but I guess you are a little disappointed given the pace-setting form your tyres showed this morning? "You always want to do better in this business and after Juan Pablo Montoya lapped fastest for Williams-BMW in this morning's final free practice it was disappointing not to take pole position. But we are second to Ferrari and the way things are in F1 at the moment that is no disgrace. Plus, Ferrari's advantage is nothing like as big as it was in Melbourne, so that offers us more encouragement."
Which of your tyre compounds will be best suited to racing conditions tomorrow, primary (A) or option (B) ? "Good question but not one I had better answer. As I said yesterday, there's not a lot to choose between them in terms of performance."
Track temperatures reached 40 degrees today. Given the heat, do you think tyre wear could provoke any problems tomorrow? "Definitely. There is a very significant wear rate at this track and I can even see that there might be protests or arguments after the race if the FIA takes a strict line on what constitutes a legal tyre in terms of how much the mandatory grooves have worn down. Everybody's tyres will suffer a significant rate of wear and keeping within the regulations might be difficult. I don't think that will cause any headaches for teams running a two-stop strategy, but things might be marginal for those who stop once."
So what's the best strategy here: two stops or one? "It's a close call, too close for me to say."
Toyota, one of your newest partners, has qualified in the top 10 on only its second grand prix. Did you expect that? "Not really. It is a very agreeable surprise. I thought they would begin the season in the second half of the field, but this is a fantastic effort that reflects what a good job the team is doing."