Kimi Raikkonen set a scorching pace in qualifying for the Turkish Grand Prix and the McLaren man claimed pole position with a best time of 1:26.797. The Renault pair of Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso were just a couple of tenths behind...
Kimi Raikkonen set a scorching pace in qualifying for the Turkish Grand Prix and the McLaren man claimed pole position with a best time of 1:26.797. The Renault pair of Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso were just a couple of tenths behind in second and third respectively, and Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren was fourth, so we could see a real battle in the race.
The conditions were fine and sunny, although the temperature was perhaps not quite as high as expected, around 30 degrees with the track in the low forties. The retirees from Hungary were first out, with the Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Christian Klien leading the way.
Coulthard presumably would rather not have been the first ever driver to qualify at Istanbul Park and clocked a rather tentative 1:29.764. Klien posted a more reasonable 1:28.963, eight tenths quicker than his teammate but there was plenty of room for improvement.
Minardi was unlikely to outdo the Red Bulls and Robert Doornbos evidently had a problem. He was over six seconds slower than Klien and he pulled into the pit lane without setting a time, then his rear brakes promptly burst into flames which caused a scramble for the extinguishers.
"It was a bit spectacular!" said Minardi boss Paul Stoddart of the fiery end to Doornbos' lap. "On the out lap Robert said he had a brake problem and in the first two sectors we could see he was struggling so we called him in. Initially he had no rear brakes because of a pressure block then the block went away and suddenly too much brakes!"
Montoya was an early runner due to his Hungary retirement and clocked 1:27.352, which was over a second and a half up on Klien but perhaps not as quick as expected after McLaren's pace in practice. Jacques Villeneuve was the first Sauber out and spun at turn eight, then stalled at the side of the track.
The session was red-flagged briefly while the Sauber was retrieved -- Villeneuve said yesterday that turn eight was the best corner in F1. Wonder if he still thinks that? When the session restarted the second Minardi of Christijan Albers was next out and was nearly five seconds off Montoya's time.
Felipe Massa was, unsurprisingly, not on Montoya's pace but had a tidy lap to put the Sauber in behind the McLaren, a second down. Tiago Monteiro was the first Jordan and went ahead of Albers, and teammate Narain Karthikeyan didn't set a flying lap as he had an engine change this morning and will start at the back anyway.
Alonso was next up and the Renault had a slightly unsettled lap but it was still good enough to clock 1:27.050 for provisional pole, three tenths up on Montoya. Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello followed on and was already seven tenths down on Alonso in the first sector. He finished over two seconds off to split the Red Bulls in fifth.
Fisichella had a good lap to take over provisional pole from teammate Alonso with a 1:27.039, just 11 hundredths up. Takuma Sato didn't do his cause any favours when he went very wide through turn eight, although he kept it going, and finished down the times behind Coulthard for eighth.
Mark Webber found some confusion when he caught up with Sato on track and his lap was compromised by the BAR, but he still managed to put the Williams fourth behind Montoya. The stewards are investigating the situation. Teammate Nick Heidfeld had a clean lap but was only fractionally ahead of Webber.
Jenson Button, who was very quick in the morning practices, was up on Fisichella in the first sector but he got out of shape through the last part of turn eight then locked the brakes in turn nine. He posted 10th after that wobbly moment, which he will be kicking himself for and is very disappointing for BAR.
Toyota's Jarno Trulli was very close to Fisichella's pace but lost out in the final sector and took fourth behind Montoya, who was doing well to hang onto the third spot after his early run. Trulli's teammate Ralf Schumacher went wide at turn nine which lost him time and he was provisional eighth behind Massa.
Michael Schumacher started out better than Ferrari teammate Barrichello but spun at turn nine when the rear end swung out. He didn't complete the lap and returned to the pits. Raikkonen was last man out and he floored it, scorching round to nail pole position with a 1:26.797, two and a half tenths up on the pair of Renaults.
So, pole number five of the season for Raikkonen but can he translate it into the win? Raikkonen's ability is not in doubt but he's got the fast starting Renaults on his rear wing and Alonso and Fisichella seem closer to McLaren's pace so far this weekend. Montoya did a good job to finish on the second row after his early start.
"I'm pleased to claim the first pole position for Formula One in Turkey," said Raikkonen. "The lap was good but not perfect, and I lost a little bit of time in the last sector, but I knew I had some time in hand... It will be a tough race tomorrow, but I am really looking forward to it."
Fisichella was distracted by Barrichello on his flyer but generally was happy. "It is great to be on the front row for tomorrow's race," the Italian commented. "We have worked hard this weekend to get a good set-up on the car, and the team has done a great job, which you can see from the grid positions."
Alonso, obviously, is aiming to beat rival Raikkonen on Sunday. "We saw that it was a difficult qualifying session for all the drivers as lots of people went off," he said. "In that situation, you have to take the gamble of either taking some risks, or being conservative: I pushed hard and came through OK, so it is great to be third, on the clean side of the grid."
Trulli was a little bit of a surprise in fifth, as Toyota was not particularly notable this morning, and Williams was solidly in the top ten with Heidfeld sixth and Webber seventh. Massa's lap proved good enough for eighth, which was a good result for Sauber but Villeneuve will have to start from the back after his spin.
Ralf ended ninth, which was not too bad, and Klien completed the top ten. Barrichello was off the pace and will start from 11th but is perhaps Ferrari's best hope as Michael will also be a back-end starter. The BARs were disappointing, Button and Sato 13th and 14th behind Coulthard.
Monteiro was the sole Jordan to set a time in 15th and Albers likewise for Minardi in 16th. Doornbos, Villeneuve, Karthikeyan and Michael will be on the back two rows. It may have been turbulent for some but qualifying at Istanbul was one of the most entertaining sessions we've had this year.
With McLaren and Renault on the first two rows it's difficult to guess what may happen in Sunday's race -- a lot will depend on who gets the better start but it certainly promises to be a good one. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Fisichella, Alonso, Montoya, Trulli, Heidfeld, Webber, Massa.