There's no keeping Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen down this weekend; from the top of the last two practice sessions the Finn went on to the top of the times in qualifying and claimed pole position for the European Grand Prix. His 1:31.450 was three...
There's no keeping Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen down this weekend; from the top of the last two practice sessions the Finn went on to the top of the times in qualifying and claimed pole position for the European Grand Prix. His 1:31.450 was three tenths up on McLaren's Fernando Alonso in second and Felipe Massa's Ferrari was third. Lewis Hamilton's McLaren suffered a front wheel failure which resulted in a heavy crash; he appears to be fine but it's not yet known if he can race.
The conditions were fine and dry at the start of the first 15 minute session, track temperature in the high thirties and the air in the low twenties. Adrian Sutil's Spyker led out along with teammate for this weekend Markus Winkelhock. The Williams pair of Alex Wurz and Nico Rosberg were also quickly out on track.
The Renaults of Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen were next to appear and Sutil set the first time, 1:34.691. Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli joined in the Toyotas while Wurz took over at the top, 1:33.049. The Toro Rossos of Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi were out next, and the Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Mark Webber.
Rosberg slotted into second and more cars were streaming out, the Hondas of Jenson Button and Rbuens Barrichello, the Super Aguris of Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson, Hamilton's McLaren and the BMW Saubers of Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. Schumacher was at the top but Trulli took over with a 1:32.727.
Davidson took third and Speed fourth, then Sato had a brief spell at the top before Hamilton clocked 1:31.587. Barrichello slotted into second then lost it to Heidfeld then Kubica in quick succession. Raikkonen was the first Ferrari on the time sheet and took over at the top but was immediately replaced by Alonso's 1:31.074
Massa was the last man to set a time and he slotted into second, four tenths off Alonso. There was just enough time left for a last run, although the top seven decided it was not necessary. Coulthard didn't cross the line quick enough to start a flyer but Rosberg got himself out of the drop zone and the Renaults improved.
Button didn't make it and led those to be dropped in 17th, followed by Speed, Liuzzi, Coulthard, Sutil and Winkelhock. Disappointing for Honda and Red Bull to lose a driver apiece so early but the rest were no particular surprise. Alonso remained at the top from Massa, Raikkonen, Hamilton and the two BMWs.
There was no rush to get out in the second session and it was four minutes gone before Trulli got things under way. Schumacher followed on and then the Renaults. As others began to take to the track Trulli clocked 1:31.859 but Schumacher outdid him then Fisichella and Kovalainen in quick succession.
Raikkonen was next but Massa was flying round and clocked 1:30.912. Hamilton slotted into second then was immediately ousted by Alonso, who was less than a tenth off Massa. Towards the end of the session only the Ferraris and McLarens felt confident enough to not go for a last run as the rest of the pack spooled out.
There was a lot of frantic activity; Kovalainen and Rosberg improved but others were on hot laps behind them. Trulli spun at the chicane and crawled back to the pits but was still 10th despite it. The Williams pair just missed it, a tenth off Trulli and just a couple of hundredths between Rosberg, who was shuffled down to 11th and Wurz in 12th.
Fisichella was 13th, followed by Barrichello, Davidson and Sato. Massa held the top spot from Alonso and Hamilton and Raikkonen rounded off the usual top four. The track temperature was still over 30 degrees but the clouds were closing in as the last 15 minute shoot out for pole got under way. Massa led out to get the fuel burning laps started.
Massa and Hamilton were lapping in formation and trading fastest sectors, Hamilton clocking 1:33.833 and Massa a couple of tenths behind. Heidfeld took over with a 1:33.283, then Alonso's 1:33.054, but it was too early for any serious attempts to be made. Raikkonen moved into second and with eight minutes to go it was time for a tyre change.
Massa and Hamilton remained close, Massa in front and Hamilton glued to his rear wing. The Brazilian wasn't having any of it and Hamilton dropped back to give himself a bit of space for his flyer. He was quicker in the first sector but then, disaster. A failure of the right front wheel, which deflated the tyre, sent him flying across the gravel and into the tyre barrier in a heavy impact.
The session was red-flagged; Hamilton was slow to get out of the car and seemed intact, but was evidently shaken. What caused the problem was apparently a wheel gun issue that meant the right front wasn't tightened up enough. The medical crew were attending Hamilton at the crash site, the Schumacher S, while the rest of the pack waited.
It took a while to clear the track; Hamilton was stretchered into an ambulance but gave a wave to the crowd so whatever was troubling him was perhaps not too serious. The McLaren was eventually extracted from the barrier, damaged at the front -- the nose cone was mostly intact but it was a big impact with the car being stopped almost instantly.
Hamilton was taken to the medical centre, conscious and talking and McLaren boss Ron Dennis reported that he was fine and had no broken bones but is being kept under observation for the moment. There were five minutes remaining when the track went green and it was back to the fight for pole, with Heidfeld leading the pack out for a quick installation lap.
Back into the pits and a quick tyre change, then there was enough time for just one flyer -- and no room for mistakes. Trulli clocked 1:32.051 and Massa was first of the front runners to go for it; he, Raikonen and Alonso were all out together. Massa managed 1:31.778 but Raikkonen was three tenths quicker; Alonso was last to cross the line but couldn't outdo the Finn.
Raikkonen has been quick all weekend and his 1:31.450 was three tenths up on Alonso. Unless Alonso can get in front of the Ferrari at the start, Raikkonen has to be the favourite for the race. Of course, you never know what might happen -- Raikkonen has never won three races in a row so can he make it this time?
"The wait after Hamilton's accident made the third session more complicated but the biggest problem was that it was all going to be down to one flying lap," said the Finn. "Now I am in the best possible position on the grid, but I am well aware that we can expect a very tough race. All weekend the car has been very good but are rivals are still very strong."
Alonso wasn't slacking and certainly will do his utmost to defeat the Ferraris. It promises to be a close and interesting fight at the front and Massa, third on the grid, can't be counted out. Hamilton was demoted down to 10th by the end of the last session; we'll have to wait and see if he can race but McLaren is optimistic.
Alonso felt he could have been on pole. "During my final qualifying lap I had a big moment at turn five and I am really lucky that I got out of it without spinning," he commented. "However it cost me more than half a second so I am pleased to be on the front row. We have made good progress during the weekend and my car in contrast to yesterday was working really well."
Massa is confident. "In Q1 and Q2 I was very happy with the handling of the car," he said. "The break because of Hamilton's accident certainly did not help matters and maybe I lost a bit of the right feeling. On my final lap I was a bit slower in the first and third sectors, just by a few hundredths but it was enough to make the difference. But I am still confident because I know I have a really good car in race trim."
BMW kept up its usual best of the rest performance, Heidfeld fourth and Kubica fifth and they could cause problems for Ferrari and McLaren if they can get involved. Webber had a good afternoon and claimed sixth and Kovalainen was Renault's saving grace in seventh. The Toyotas ended eighth and ninth, Trulli ahead of Schumacher.
Dennis said Hamiltone was fine. "He has been taken to hospital for a precautionary CT scan and we will know later today if he is able to race tomorrow," the team boss explained. "The accident was due to either a faulty air regulator or wheelgun causing the wheel nut on his right front wheel not to be tightened properly. The team is undertaking a full investigation to understand how this could have happened."
Presuming Hamilton can race, it's going to be a tough job for McLaren to prevent Ferrari taking a major score of points on Sunday afternoon. One thing that could make it even more interesting is the weather: rain is predicted for tomorrow. Final top ten classification: Raikkonen, Alonso, Massa, Heidfeld, Kubica, Webber, Kovalainen, Trulli, Schumacher, Hamilton.