In practices Kimi Raikkonen had been putting the McLaren MP4-19B through its paces and the Finn drove a blistering lap to take pole position in qualifying for the British Grand Prix. Raikkonen's time of 1:18.233 was just seven hundredths ahead of...
In practices Kimi Raikkonen had been putting the McLaren MP4-19B through its paces and the Finn drove a blistering lap to take pole position in qualifying for the British Grand Prix. Raikkonen's time of 1:18.233 was just seven hundredths ahead of Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari but it was enough. BAR's Jenson Button gave the home crowds something to cheer about when he took third. The rain held off but gave rise to some curious strategy decisions in the first session.
Michael Schumacher led off in pre-qualifying and set a poor 1:30.293 after spinning the Ferrari in the last sector. Renault's Fernando Alonso, who will suffer a 10 place grid demotion for an engine change after practice, clocked 1:21.923, which was not exactly speedy. Barrichello also seemingly made a bit of a mess of things, going over the grass at turn eight and slotting into second behind Alonso.
Jarno Trulli made the first fairly decent effort, 1:21.496 for half a second up on teammate Alonso, but still some way off the fast practice times. Button was the first BAR out and set the record straight with a 1:18.872, over two and half seconds ahead of Trulli. Since Alonso's engine change, perhaps Renault was taking it easy.
David Coulthard, unsurprisingly after their poor laps, beat both Ferraris for fourth in the McLaren. Teammate Raikkonen managed third, but nobody was within two seconds of Button. Juan Pablo Montoya started the tactical game, the Williams over 15 seconds off and slowing over the line. With rain clouds massing, setting slow laps to get out early in the first session was a strategy some adopted.
Jaguar's Mark Webber followed suit, 17 seconds down, as did the Williams of Marc Gen?, slotting into ninth ahead of the Jaguar and Christian Klien did likewise, 11th behind teammate Webber. "Everyone was worried about the weather so we thought let's do a slow time and get a dry as possible lap in the next one," explained Webber. "They're saying there's rain coming before the end of the next session."
Giancarlo Fisichella led the Saubers out and didn't even bother to complete his flyer after going over the grass at the same place as Barrichello. Teammate Felipe Massa opted against the safe tactic and shot up to second, four tenths off Button. Toyota's Cristiano da Matta posted sixth, also going for a proper lap time, and teammate Olivier Panis kept his foot down for third fastest.
Nick Heidfeld's Jordan also took to the grass and returned to the pits without clocking a time but teammate Giorgio Pantano took fourth. Gianmaria Bruni led the pair of Minardis and managed ninth and Zsolt Baumgartner slotted into tenth. BAR's Takuma Sato was last to run and finally ambled over the line to clock 13th -- he and Button evidently on opposite tactics.
However, at the end of pre-qualifying BAR boss David Richards was adamant it wasn't going to rain. Who was going to be proved right about the weather? It was a curious first session and ended with Button leading Massa, Panis, Pantano, Trulli, Raikkonen, Alonso, da Matta.
There was no rain as Heidfeld commenced the final, grid deciding session, and the track temperature was around 30 degrees. Heidfeld clocked 1:22.677 for the first flyer. Fisichella did not make a second run -- as he will get the demotion penalty anyway, Sauber decided to call it a day for the Italian.
Klien made his second run and set a reasonable 1:21.559 but there was plenty of room for improvement. Webber did so, by 1.5 seconds, 1:20.004 for provisional pole. Gen? made second, three tenths down, and there a short break before teammate Montoya took to the track. The Colombian was half a second up on Webber in the middle sector and finished six tenths ahead, 1:19.378.
Schumacher managed not to spin it on his final lap and was a further six tenths up on Montoya, 1:18.710. Sato was the about half a second down in the first sector and dropped to nine tenths for third quickest. Barrichello, last year's pole man and winner at Silverstone, drove a blinder to clock 1:18.305, a very fast lap indeed. Coulthard was off the Ferraris' pace, eight tenths down, but took third from Sato.
Baumgartner was over five seconds down and Bruni crept in front of him for 10th. The clouds were massing as da Matta posted eighth and Alonso was out next. The Spaniard did a clean lap for third but will, of course, drop ten places from his final position. Raikkonen drove an absolute stunner, taking provisional pole by seven hundredths. The Finn was four tenths down in the first sector, so to pick up and go fastest by the end was just amazing.
Trulli managed fourth, just five thousandths slower than Schumacher, and Pantano outdid teammate Heidfeld to by one place to post 13th. Panis managed 10th, ahead of Gen?'s Williams. Massa was the penultimate runner and was a little hampered by Panis on his in lap, so stole the 10th place from him in retaliation. Panis' time was subsequently disallowed by the stewards, who agreed with Sauber that the Frenchman had cost Massa a grid position. Panis will start from the back tommorrow.
Button set the final lap of the day, still in dry conditions. He was on Raikkonen's pace through the first two sectors and the British crowd held their breath. But he couldn't quite find the scorching speed of the McLaren in the final sector and took third.
Excellent to see Raikkonen on pole position, he really deserved it with the effort he and McLaren have put in this weekend and the superb qualifying lap. "This weekend has been very good, the car has been good to drive," said the Finn. "The balance has been good and what can I say? I'm very happy for myself and for the team. We had a difficult start to the season but now it's looking better."
Barrichello alongside in second promises an interesting first few laps. "It's been quite a good weekend, the car is working fantastically well," the Ferrari man commented. "We were on a good lap in qualifying but then the car started to slide a little bit at the end and I lost time in sector three. But it was a good lap and I'm quite happy."
Richards proved to be the best weather predictor -- or at least the BAR man in the helicopter did. "It was a bit of a close one to call but I think strategy wise we did well with the weather and it's good to be in the top three," said Button. "We all want to be on pole but third is a good place to start from and I'm looking forward to it."
Schumacher finished fourth to make the second row alongside Button -- another interesting prospect -- and Coulthard will move up to sixth on row three tomorrow alongside Trulli, due to Alonso's demotion from 6th to 16th. So now we wait for the strategy to unfold in the race. There's no point in trying to guess what Ferrari might do and Schumacher starting from fourth certainly can't be counted out.
The strategy games in pre-qualifying really didn't make much of a diifference to the final grid positions. Sato and Gen? were perhaps lower than expected but no major surprises. Michael claimed he spun on his first lap on purpose for "strategic reasons", and Barrichello said his run wide was also deliberate.
"We tried to do it in such a way that the other teams would not understand our intentions, but they did the same thing anyway," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn of the drivers' "mistakes". They must have decided that strategy well in advance as Michael had been 'practicing' spins all weekend.
On home ground Button will be gunning for his first win and McLaren seem to have the pace to actually race at the front. Trulli in fifth will be a threat with the starts Renault make, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Alonso convert 16th into points position.
Not a great day for Williams, Montoya qualified eighth and Gen? a lowly 13th -- but everyone from Coulthard in seventh to Pantano in 16th will move up one place on the grid due to Alonso's penalty. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Barrichello, Button, Schumacher, Trulli, Alonso, Coulthard, Montoya.