Pacific GP Friday qualifying notes




Rothmans Williams Renault: David Coulthard(1), Damon Hill(2) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ "It is a fun circuit to drive from a qualifying point of view," said Coulthard, "but it is very difficult because it is incredibly dusty. I didn't expect to come away from the first day with provisional pole position but of course I am glad to accept it...I was setting myself up to get the car balanced and learning the track, rather than thinking I was going for pole position, but I tried to extend myself a little bit more on the lap (which included a wild slide over the kerbing)."

Teammate Damon Hill was slightly disappointed to lose another pole (provisionally) to Coulthard, though he tried not to show it: "It is a good result for the team today and we must maintain that for tomorrow and the race as well. What you need here is a clear lap on new tires so I felt it was worth waiting for the end. We can now work on the car, as it is far from perfect, but the track is very low grip. The added problem we have here is cars bring dirt and sand on the track and especially in the last corner. It is like a beach down there, and every lap that you go over you pick up sand on your tires, but I suppose it is the same for everyone."

Mild Seven Benetton Ford: Michael Schumacher(3), Johnny Herbert(6) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Schumacher was satisfied he had driven as fast as he could given the setup on his Benetton-Ford: "I was pretty much on the limit and did not feel I could improve my time very much, if at all, towards the end of the session. We will have to go away and study the data and sort the car out tomorrow. I want to try and get pole position here. It is possible and it is what I am aiming to do. This circuit is special, unique, and it cannot be compared to anything else so it is difficult to know what the effects of our revised rear suspension have been."

Herbert moved up well from 10th Friday morning to 6th in the afternoon and felt he can do even better tomorrow, given further favorable chassis tweaks, and a cure for "nervous braking" at the end of the back straight: "We made some improvement following this morning's session, in particular in the balance of the car. I believe there is still a lot more to come both from myself and the car."

Ferrari: Jean Alesi(4), Gerhard Berger(5) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ "Maximum possible downforce" was a phrase heard a lot today from the Ferrari camp. Both drivers complained of a general lack of grip, and wing-ears were finally fitted in addition to most front and rear wing the FIA technical regulations allow.

Given the fact Alesi had never seen the TI Circuit at Aida, Japan, before today, the Frenchman did very well -- never mind that he has the 'flu!

"This is quite a good result, especially considering that I feel weak because of the 'flu and because of the medicines I am taking, Alesi explained. "Aida is not a difficult track to learn, but you need time to get used to the corners before pushing hard with confidence. The car is pretty much okay and I seem to be moving in the right direction (with regards to car setup).

Berger thought he could have done better: "My engine gradually lost power (throughout the session). Also when I went out on my third set of tires and was doing my quick lap the car went into a skid."

Marlboro McLaren Mercedes: Mark Blundell(7), Jan Magnussen(11) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ The team was reasonably satisfied of the outcome of the first qualifying session. Blundell managed "best of the rest," beating the Peogeot rivals at Jordan. Blundell predicted there is at least a half second left in the car at this circuit.

"First of all I'd like to wish Mika (Hakkinen) a speedy recovery," began Blundell. "Although I am relishing the opportunity to lead the team in his absence...I must take my hat off to Jan, who has done a very good job. We are now working to improve the car, as I believe progress can be made overnight. Our biggest problem is in the slow speed corners and that's the area we have to concentrate on...The car is good over the first two-thirds of the lap, but I am losing a lot through a lack of mechanical grip in the last third of the lap.

Both team principal Ron Dennis and Mercedes Sport Director Norbert Haug had high praise for Magnussen, most notably, for keeping the car on the black stuff all day long.

Jan Magnussen: "I am quite pleased with my first day although I could have gone a bit faster and stayed in the top ten if I had not caught (Pedro) Lamy on my last lap. We did not do any major changes to the car, and most improvements came from me getting used to the car and to the track."

Total Jordan Peugeot: Eddie Irvine(8), Rubens Barrichello(10) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Eddie Irvine was not totally happy with the handling of his car, complaining of snap oversteer. His main problems this afternoon though was traffic.

"I've still got the same problem as this morning; the back end is very snappy," said Irvine. "That could be a big problem on Sunday if we don't sort it. I could still have been 5th or 6th on the grid though, if I hadn't had traffic on two of my quick laps."

Rubens Barrichello's comments were similar to that of his teammate; oversteer and traffic. He set his best time on his third set of tires to provisionally qualify in 10th place.

"The car was very different with the new tires this afternoon," the Brazilian explained. "I had a lot more oversteer. I spent two sets of tires trying to get the best setup so I could only use the last set to do a time. The car was better, but I got traffic - somebody came out of the pits just as I was starting my quick lap. That cost me a couple of places.

Red Bull Sauber Ford: Heinz-Harald Frentzen(9), Jules Boullion(12) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Frentzen has been disappointed with his performance since the green flag dropped for the first practice session today: "It's quite a difficult situation because the balance is neutral but I'm not as happy with the car as I would like. We need to try going in a different direction so we will be thinking very hard about that before tomorrow's practice."

Boullion: "I like the circuit and the car felt very well balanced -- I was hoping to qualify in the top 10 this afternoon. On my first set the first lap went well but there was a little less grip on the next lap. I tried doing one slow lap, followed by a quick one but the tires had dust on them and lost performance. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to make the changes to the car we would have liked before going out on the second set. I managed to improve, but only by a tenth of a second. Tomorrow, I will have the latest specification engine and I hope to improve enough to at least get into the top 10."

Gitanes Ligier Mugen: Aguri Suzuki(13), Olivier Panis(14) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ "Having been slowed by other cars during my first two runs, I went out just before the flag dropped to get in a good traffic-free lap and make a notable improvement with my third set of tires," Suzuki explained.

Panis: "My principal problem today has been slow corner oversteer and, while I am confident we have the means at our disposal to cure this, we didn't have enough time to make the necessary changes between the two sessions."

Nokia Tyrrell Yamaha: Mika Salo(15), Ukyo Katayama(17) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Both drivers set their best times on the first flying lap of their third set of tires. Both drivers are using the "C" version of the OX10C Yamaha 10 engine, which will also be used, with "minor adjustments" at Suzuka next week. A new engine for 1996 is currently on the "dyno" and will be ready for testing immediately after the season finale at Adelaide.

"I knew before coming here that it would be a difficult circuit for us because there are mainly slow corners and we had problems this season in such corners," said Salo. "It's good for me to come back to Aida but racing F1 cars on such a circuit is like flying a remote control helicopter in my living room!"

"I am delighted to be back in a race meeting," exclaimed Katayama, who missed the Grand Prix of Europe while rehabilitating from his nasty crash on the start of the Grand Prix of Portugal. "I am not happy with my performance today. I was expecting better, especially after the good test we had at Silverstone last week. After this morning's practice, we decided to change the differential for qualifying but it was difficult to adapt to it straight away. I will have more time in the second practice and be more competitive in final qualifying."

Minardi (Ford) Scuderia Italia: Pedro Lamy(16), Luca Badoer(18) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Team Owner Giancarlo Minardi summed it up for the team: "Our team made a good performance today. We are very close to the Ligier-Honda and the Tyrrell-Yamaha. Considering our power status (customer Ford ED engines) we have given once again a near perfect demonstration of the efficiency of our M195 (chassis). We know exactly where we are able to improve our cars. Our drivers also expressed their confidence to be faster tomorrow. When looking at today's times one can see that Pedro maintained this afternoon about the same difference with the best time of the session and that Luca reduced his own gap by 0.8-seconds because he was able to improve his knowledge of the track. Close analysis of the best times on the three sectors gives an interesting point of view on our M195 performances."

Arrows-Footwork Hart: Gianni Morbidelli(19), Taki Inoue(20) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Gianni Morbidelli must be one of the most likeable guys in F1, and is also very fast and highly respected by the Arrows team as he is the one driver the team keeps calling back to drive, without billfold in-hand.

"I must thank the team for the opportunity that they gave me to be back in F1," said Morbidelli. "Concerning today's performance, even if my position on the grid is not fantastic it has been helpful to get the feeling back with the car and the team."

Inoue: "Unfortunately this morning in free practice I did on a few laps due to gearbox problems, so I did not have any time to work on the set up. In qualifying I had a very strong oversteer and even with some changes to the car the problem was still there, so I am looking forward to tomorrow for an improvement."

Parmalat Forti Ford: Roberto Moreno(21), Pedro Diniz(22) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Both cars are using standard gear changes, while the spare is fitted with the new semi-automatic transmission.

"Straight away the circuit was very easy to learn, because there are so many slow corners," Moreno related. "We're going to try to make the race setup (on Saturday) to make the car more comfortable, and last as much as possible with new tires."

"It's a good track, but very slippery at the moment," said Diniz. "I think for qualifying we made a mistake with the set up of the car, and I could not improve my time at the end of the session. There's quite a lot of tire wear, and in the middle of the flying lap the car starts to oversteer."

Pacific (Ford) Grand Prix: Andrea Montermini(23), Bertrand Gachot(24) ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Montermini was quite disappointed to qualify two seconds slower than he went 'round in the morning session - and that after just three laps. He did just one flying run in the afternoon, too, but the car wasn't right: "The car was very difficult to drive today because there is massive oversteer which means that I lost a lot of time in the corners.

Gachot, who has replaced Jean-Denis Deletraz, had to cope with the additional problem of having not driven a Formula One car since finishing 12th for Pacific in the British GP at Silverstone in July. In qualifying today Bertrand improved his lap times steadily, despite the oversteer problem, but he admitted to feeling a little 'rusty': "It has been difficult to drive today....The car had oversteer, but I think that until I am driving again well there will be a lot of time to come from me."

Briefly: -------- Schumacher was the first to set a legitmate time early in the session -- held for about a half-hour -- but he could only improve a few hundreths before settling for third by the end of the hour. Most everyone used three sets of tires today; two sets used for just for R&D in order to fine-tune chassis for a final run on a new set of tires as the track got faster and faster towards the end of the session. Coulthard snatched pole from Schumacher with just a couple minutes remaining and Hill followed him to take second. Schumacher, too, was out in the final minutes but could do nothing with the Williams pair.

Friday's provisional qualifying session was run under bright sunny skies with a slightly chilled breeze. Sorry, actuall temperature was unavailable.

Jan Magnussen was up into the top ten but dropped down to 11th when he was denied a clear lap on his third set of tires (see McLaren notes).

Amazingly -- or maybe not-so, given the slow nature of the circuit -- there were no major incidents today. Bertrand Gachot slid off-track in the morning, but that was about it. Most drivers did complain, however, that more than a couple pilots were being sloppy in the final corner and throwing a lot of sand onto the course. Keep the sand in the sandbox, boys!....

Correction: Bertrand Gachot has in fact seen the Aida circuit before: He and then teammate Paul Belmondo failed to qualify for last year's race, run in April.

According to my records, those running Friday who did not do so here last April are: Coulthard, Alesi, Magnussen, Boullion, Badoer, Inoue, Moreno, Diniz, and Montermini.


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Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Johnny Herbert , Luca Badoer , Michael Schumacher , Heinz-Harald Frentzen , Rubens Barrichello , Jean Alesi , David Coulthard , Olivier Panis , Jan Magnussen , Gerhard Berger , Roberto Moreno , Mika Salo , Mark Blundell , Pedro Lamy , Norbert Haug , Damon Hill , Jean-Denis Deletraz , Andrea Montermini , Ukyo Katayama , Paul Belmondo , Aguri Suzuki , Taki Inoue , Gianni Morbidelli , Bertrand Gachot , Pedro Diniz
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton , Minardi , Jordan