Looking to repeat last year's race victory and promote defense of his Formula One world driving title, Kimi Raikkonen put his Ferrari F2008 on pole for Sunday's French Grand Prix. The Finn was less than five-hundredths of a second faster than ...
Looking to repeat last year's race victory and promote defense of his Formula One world driving title, Kimi Raikkonen put his Ferrari F2008 on pole for Sunday's French Grand Prix. The Finn was less than five-hundredths of a second faster than teammate Felipe Massa as Ferrari locked out the front row. Race fuel-loaded Raikkonen timed in at 1 minute, 16.449 seconds on the Circuit de Nevers at Magny-Cours, Massa at 1:16.490.
The pole position is champion Ferrari's 200th as well as Raikkonen's third this season and 16th career. He starts the race in fourth place in drivers' points with 35 to leader Robert Kubica's 42. England's Lewis Hamilton and Brazilian teammate Massa are tied on 38. Ferraris start 1-2 for the third time this season.
"We had a good speed all weekend, the car has been working very well, and this has been a great weekend so far, but tomorrow is the one we need to finish, and, hopefully, we can win because we need some points," Raikkonen said.
Massa, who said he "had a moment" in an elevator that left his neck hurting through both Friday practices, was fastest through the first two qualifying sessions. He held pole for this race a year ago before finishing second ahead of Hamilton.
"I was a little bit overdriving too much in Q3, trying to get the best out of the car and I lost a little bit of time in a couple of corners," Massa said. "I was trying to push too hard. But anyhow I think the front row is good."
Hamilton posted third-best time in his McLaren Mercedes, but he won't start near the front; his 10-spot penalty from crashing into Raikkonen in the pit lane at Canada drops him to 13th. He'll start on the seventh row next to Scuderia Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais. Hamilton apologized to his team for making consistent mistakes out of Turn 7.
"I didn't do a great job at all," he said. ""My first and second laps I had the same mistake on both of them. On the exit of Turn 7, I went wide and I lost at least three-tenths there. I was pushing, trying to get the most out of the car, and I believe I did in most areas, except that one."
Hamilton's demotion puts Fernando Alonso's Renault on the clean side of the grid on Row 3 next to Toyota's Jarno Trulli, who continued his recent spinning spate right through qualifying. With Hamilton starting farther back, Alonso has a solid home hope of a podium.
"The car has really improved and so, for the first time this season, we have the real chance to fight for the podium," Alonso said. "The Ferraris are certainly a step ahead, but we will give our maximum to get a good result tomorrow."
Filling out the first five rows are Heikki Kovalainen's McLaren, Kubica's BMW Sauber, the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and David Coulthard, Timo Glock's Toyota and Nelsinho Piquet's Renault. Coulthard hauled his Red Bull RB4 into the top 10 at the final moment, bumping Piquet, who gains 10th spot through Hamilton's penalty. Both Red Bulls in the top 10 show a steady improvement for the soft drinks team. Toyota, too, showed promise with both cars in the top 10, although Toyota-powered Williamses had a dismal qualifying, landing among the final six spots.
"That was a great qualifying session so I'm really pleased both for myself and for the team to get two cars into the top 10," Trulli said. Toyota cars and garage are black-draped to mourn the death of first team boss Ove Andersson, who died, age 70, in a recent vintage rally in South Africa. Trulli said earlier the team wants to do well at this race in Andersson's memory.
After topping time charts in the ever-hard-to-interpret final practice, Piquet lacked sufficient speed when it counted. Also knocked out in Q2 were BMW Sauber's Nick Heidfeld, who was within a tenth of his teammate, the Toro Rossos of Sebastian Vettel and Bourdais, and Williams's Nico Rosberg, whose 15th spot plus a 10-spot penalty incurred in the Hamilton incident at Canada put him at the back of the grid. Heidfeld has missed the top 10 twice in the past three events. He will be little comforted that teammate Kubica struggled for pace, too.
Vettel's show of speed through practices indicated he had a good shot at Q3. "That was very close and I think we can be happy to have both cars in Q2," Vettel said. "I came very near to making Q3 and although I can't say I'm angry, when you get so close it is disappointing not to have done it." Vettel said he struggled primarily in the second sector.
Vettel's teammate Bourdais took on his homeland with a mere two complaints: "I still have to get the car to my liking," he said, "as at the moment it does the two things I don't like: oversteer in the slow turns and understeer in the fast ones."
With Hamilton and Rosberg reconfigured due to penalties, the second half of the grid fills with Heidfeld's BMW Sauber, Vettel's Toro Rosso, Hamilton's McLaren, Bourdais's Toro Rosso, Kazuki Nakajima's Williams, the Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, the Force Indias of Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil, and Rosberg's Williams.
"I knew it was going to be slightly hard for us here, but to be so far off the pace is quite surprising," Rosberg said. "If everything had gone perfectly, I may have been in P14, but that's not good enough."
Suspense in first qualifying came from Heidfeld, who spent a prolonged amount of time in 18th position. He pulled himself out of the elimination spot only at the death, completing a lap begun just before the checkered fell. It moved him to 12th. Heidfeld bumped Nakajima, who suffered traffic congestion.
Trulli's third-best Q1 effort for Toyota means improvements, however incremental, for the Japanese manufacturing giant. Toyota have shifted the ground beneath the Japanese carmakers to favor the winless Germany-based team ahead of Honda.
"A pure lack of performance from the car today," Barrichello said.
The Darwinian shakeout in the series puts the Force Indias of Fisichella and Sutil and the Hondas of Button and Barrichello as the slowest cars in the series. The last time both Hondas were left in Q1 was Hungary 2007.
"A very disappointing qualifying session today," Button said. "The car was well balanced and we were pretty much getting the maximum performance from it. However unfortunately, our pace reflects where we are at this track. Hopefully, we can be more competitive in race trim, but it's disappointing and unexpected as we thought that the car would perform better around this circuit."
Heikki Kovalainen was assessed a five-spot penalty by the officials after qualifying for blocking Mark Webber. The Finn was fifth on the grid after McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton dropped 10 places from his penalty handed out the last event. Kovalainen will now start tenth, with Canada's winner, Robert Kubica, moving into fifth for the grid. McLaren has not indicated they wish to challenge the decision.