Sepang, Malaysia, October 16, 1999 - After a solid morning practice run in which he placed sixth, Jacques Villeneuve turned in the 10th best qualifying time today in preparation for Sunday's first-ever Malaysian Grand Prix. British American...
Sepang, Malaysia, October 16, 1999 - After a solid morning practice run in which he placed sixth, Jacques Villeneuve turned in the 10th best qualifying time today in preparation for Sunday's first-ever Malaysian Grand Prix. British American Racing team-mate Ricardo Zonta, who had struggled Friday on the brand-new Sepang International Circuit, will be on the seventh row of the starting grid after finishing 13th.
With the track temperatures rising to the high 40s° Centigrade as qualifying got under way, tyre choice was the major factor in track performance. Although both British American Racing drivers set their qualifying times on new tyres, Jacques Villeneuve tried a run on scrubbed tyres to see if this would be an improvement.
The uniqueness of the brand-new Sepang International Circuit, opened in March, and the placement of the Malaysian Grand Prix on the 1999 FIA Formula One schedule, set up a dramatic race on Sunday, with much at stake for the leading teams in the Constructors' and Drivers' world championships.
With two races remaining, Ferrari and McLaren are neck-and-neck in both championships, and find themselves monopolising the first two rows for Sunday. Michael Schumacher, returning from a leg injury, turned in today's best lap: one minute, 39.688 seconds, to win the pole position. Team-mate Eddie Irvine (1:40.635) is beside him on the front row. Right behind the Ferraris are the McLarens, with David Coulthard (1:40.806) and Mika Hakkinen (1:40.865) third and fourth respectively.
Sepang's design should promote a dramatic race, with many opportunities to pass. Formula One tracks average eight-to-12 metres in width; Sepang's dimensions are 12-to-22 metres. The 5.542 km/3.444 miles track featurings many sweeping turns, and a unique double grandstand with straightaways down both sides.
The battle will be joined at 1400 hours local time, when the starting lights go out for the debut of the penultimate round of the 1999 Formula One World Championship season.
JACQUES VILLENEUVE - 1:42.087 - 10th "We based our set-up work on Friday's session in which we ran old tyres. Unfortunately the track changed a lot today in the heat, and as we had prepared scrubbed sets for qualifying, we only had two sets of new ones left. Basically we made a wrong decision last night and paid for it today, as we had to keep changing the set-up between old and new rubber. In spite of that, I'm looking forward to the race - the track is wide and it's an easy one on which to make mistakes, so there should be opportunities for overtaking."
RICARDO ZONTA - 1:42.310 - 13th "The car felt good right from the beginning of qualifying, but perhaps I did not put all my best sectors together on my fastest lap. I think I could have made the top eight, but I wanted to be sure of a reasonable time and I might have been a little too cautious, losing an opportunity to be faster. The team did a great job, especially my engineer Mick Cook - I'm very glad he's back again after his illness. I like the new circuit very much, although I had no track time at all to enjoy it on Friday."
CRAIG POLLOCK, Chairman & CEO, British American Racing "It's a good sign that our drivers have qualified close together, but we were not able to replicate our best Friday performance, which is a pity. We experienced no mechanical problems, and that has to give us confidence for the race."