Juan Pablo Montoya will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position with McLaren teammate Kimi Raikkonen alongside on the front row of the grid. Montoya's qualifying time of 1:46.391 at Spa-Francorchamps was just five hundredths up on...
Juan Pablo Montoya will start the Belgian Grand Prix from pole position with McLaren teammate Kimi Raikkonen alongside on the front row of the grid. Montoya's qualifying time of 1:46.391 at Spa-Francorchamps was just five hundredths up on Raikkonen and Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella was a tenth astray in third. However, a penalty will drop Fisichella ten places so Toyota's Jarno Trulli will start third.
The weather behaved itself for qualifying, with dry conditions and a track temperature of around 35 degrees. Renault finally decided to change the engine in Fisichella's car; a suspected gremlin after Monza turned out to be a valve problem and the change was a precautionary measure. Fisichella will therefore incur the grid demotion, which won't help Renault's fight against McLaren in the constructors' championship.
Jordan's Narain Karthikeyan started the proceedings with a 1:51.675, both he and Tiago Monteiro in the new EJ15B chassis this weekend. Minardi's Christijan Albers was already half a second up through the first sector and finished the lap nearly two seconds ahead, 1:49.842. Teammate Robert Doornbos was just six hundredths quicker for 1:49.779, a good effort by Minardi.
Monteiro couldn't match the Faenza squad but was a couple of tenths quicker than Karthikeyan. Reportedly Jordan is convinced that it will be a wet race on Sunday and therefore ran a wet set-up in qualifying, which could explain the deficit to the Minardis. BAR's Takuma Sato was only on the same pace as Doornbos through sector one but, unsurprisingly, he picked up to clock 1:48.353, well over a second up.
David Coulthard kicked off the next group of five runners and the Red Bull had a reasonable lap, a tenth and a half down on Sato to post second. Mark Webber was the first Williams out and was nearly three tenths up on Sato in the middle sector and held the gap to take provisional pole with a 1:48.071. The second red Bull of Christian Klien lost time in the middle and slotted in behind Coulthard.
Rubens Barrichello led out for Ferrari and split the Red Bulls with fourth, while Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve was quickest in the first sector but lost out afterwards and posted fifth. Michael Schumacher, who claimed his seventh title at Spa last season but is now out of contention for this year, was seven tenths up on Webber through the middle and the Ferrari finished a comfortable six tenths quicker, 1:47.476.
Felipe Massa, like Sauber teammate Villeneuve, was quickest in the first sector and lost out in the middle, but then was quickest again in the last. He clocked second, four tenths off Michael, a good effort from Massa. Jenson Button couldn't outdo the Sauber and posted provisional third, while Antonio Pizzonia, again standing in for Nick Heidfeld at Williams, was rather off the pace to post ninth.
Toyota was quick in the morning practices and Ralf Schumacher and Trulli ran one after the other. Ralf struggled through Rivage, as some other drivers had, but had a very fast last sector to take provisional pole with a 1:47.401, fractionally up on Michael. As Trulli took to the track there were one or two drops of rain; he was eight tenths up in the middle and took over from Ralf by the same margin, 1:46.596.
Raikkonen led the McLaren and Renault quartet and had a good lap, if not one of his best, and took provisional pole by a tenth and a half, 1:46.440. Fisichella's Renault had a very fast first sector but was almost a second slower than Trulli through the middle, but he was just six hundredths off Raikkonen for second. Teammate Fernando Alonso had a surprisingly slow lap and only managed fourth.
Monza winner Montoya was last to run and was fractionally up on Raikkonen all the way round the lap. He secured pole position with a 1:46.391, just half a tenth up on his teammate. So, an all McLaren front row for the Belgian Grand Prix and Alonso will start fourth, due to Fisichella's penalty, alongside Trulli in third. It's looking good for McLaren but Alonso will need to get past Trulli at the start.
"That was a nice and smooth lap," said Montoya. "I was sitting in the car when I saw a few drops of rain and was thinking 'oh no'. However I think it just stopped when I went out and didn't affect my lap. The car was working well despite us only having limited time to work on the set-up, but we seem to have found the perfect balance between speed and grip."
Raikkonen, like Montoya and the rest of the team, was happy about the front row lock-out. "To have both Juan Pablo and myself on the front row is great and I'm really pleased," he commented. "Second place is good, and we will work from there to get the best result we can. The car seems to be working well in both wet and dry conditions which is reassuring as it seems like it's going to rain tomorrow."
Trulli was equally happy with his own efforts. "I honestly think that was a great lap," he said. "There were a few spots of rain during my first sector so I couldn't quite push as hard as I would have liked. But in general the car felt very well balanced so it was possible to push right to the limit, and that's what I did. Every sector of this lap is difficult but it felt quick, so I'm happy with where we've ended up."
Fisichella is hoping to make up ground in the race. "I am a bit disappointed... because I did a good lap, the car was better than this morning," he remarked in regard to his penalty. "I have a good potential to recover some positions tomorrow, I have a good speed and I think it would be nice to get on the podium again. I will try all my best because the last race was good for me."
Alonso's lap was a bit of a mystery after his pace in the morning practices but there's always the variables of strategy to consider. It seems quite a few teams are sure it will rain tomorrow so set-up also may have influenced performances. While McLaren and Renault did pretty much as expected, Toyota came good with Trulli on the second row and Ralf sixth, one ahead of brother Michael.
Massa's lap was good enough for eighth, which was a decent effort from the Brazilian, although Villeneuve found himself down in 14th at the end. BAR was a little disappointing, Button ninth and Sato 11th, as was Williams with Webber 10th and Pizzonia 15th. However, Pizzonia started midfield in Monza and came home in the points so there's every chance of a reasonable result at Spa.
Coulthard ended up 12th and Klien a disappointing 16th, while Barrichello finished 13th. Doornbos led the back markers in 17th and Minardi will be happy to have both cars in front of the Jordans. The race looks likely to be a McLaren playground but will the weather interfere? Final top eight classification: Montoya, Raikkonen, Fisichella, Trulli, Alonso, R. Schumacher, M. Schumacher, Massa.