Saturday qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix couldn't have been much closer, with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen taking provisional pole position by just three thousandths of a second from Renault's Fernando Alonso. Behind the young guns, Michael...
Saturday qualifying for the San Marino Grand Prix couldn't have been much closer, with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen taking provisional pole position by just three thousandths of a second from Renault's Fernando Alonso. Behind the young guns, Michael Schumacher, whose Ferrari held the top spot for much of the session, had to settle for third.
Conditions were dry and warm with a track temperature of around 30 degrees at the start of the session and red Bull's Tonio Liuzzi was the first man out. His lap was a little scrappy initially but the time was a reasonable 1:21.804. Alex Wurz was out next and the McLaren was over a second faster, 1:20.632.
Narain Karthikeyan was the first Jordan and was two and a half seconds off the pace. Giancarlo Fisichella led out for Renault and was doing well but got a bit out of shape through Rivazza and was a second down on Wurz. Michael had a tidy lap and took provisional pole by nearly four tenths, 1:20.260.
Nick Heidfeld had a rather cautious lap and the Williams took third, then Takuma Sato was just a couple of hundredths slower in the BAR. His teammate Jenson Button, who was quickest in the final practice, closed the gap to Michael to two tenths for second.
Minardi is not quite familiar enough with the new PS05 yet and Christijan Albers was over five seconds off provisional pole. Teammate Patrick Friesacher went very wide at Variante Alta and looked like he was fighting the car, ending up slower than Albers.
Sauber went quite well in the practice sessions this weekend and Jacques Villeneuve took sixth on his qualifying lap, ahead of Fisichella. Jordan's Tiago Monteiro was nearly two seconds off the pace in the first sector and nearly five by the end of his lap for 10th. Rubens Barrichello couldn't match teammate Michael and his Ferrari clocked sixth.
David Coulthard put his Red Bull eighth on his lap, one ahead of Liuzzi, and the Sauber of Felipe Massa had a very good lap to finish just three tenths off Michael for third. However, he will lose 10 places on the grid tomorrow due to an engine change after Friday's practices.
The second Williams of Mark Webber had a surprisingly fast lap and was quickest of all in the final sector to take second, just under two tenths off Michael. Ralf Schumacher was the first Toyota could only manage ninth -- Toyota does tend to struggle at Imola and the car hasn't had the pace it showed in the early races.
Raikkonen was slightly up in the first sector, a little more in two and powered through the last to take provisional pole by nearly four tenths. An excellent lap by the Finn. Jarno Trulli had a better lap than teammate Ralf and took fifth.
That left Renault's championship leader Fernando Alonso the last man to run. He was fractionally down on Raikkonen in the first sector and dropped to a tenth in the second, then flew in the last to slot into behind the McLaren by a deficit of just three thousandths.
"The start of the lap was slightly better than Fernando's and he almost got me in the last sector, but it was enough," said Raikkonen. "It will be close between us tomorrow but we'll see. The car is much better overall and the circuit seems to suit the car better than the previous circuits. I'm very happy with it."
"Hard work," said Ron Dennis about McLaren's improved qualifying performance. "It's very encouraging for us as we have a lot coming on the car for Spain." As for tomorrow's qualifying, he added: "It's going to be tough but we know the weaknesses and strengths of the car and we should be able to stay in the first four."
Alonso was happy enough with his lap. "We did a good job but we know it will be difficult," he commented. "Imola historically is not a perfect circuit for Renault but the car is much better over the kerbs and we are very happy. We're still competitive and fighting for pole position and for the win tomorrow."
Michael said he was pleased with Ferrari's perfomance: "We have been showing very consistently a strong performance over the weekend with qualifying, which is a little bit of a weak spot after we have seen all the races, we have had a weak spot obviously in the race in mid to the end of the race and I think we have worked very well on that one, so overall I am pretty happy."
A very interesting session with Raikkonen and Alonso so close at the front. Michael was relegated to third and Webber was not far behind the Ferrari -- half a second between all four. BAR is probably a little disappointed to have Button fifth and Sato 10th after its efforts in practices.
Toyota had mixed fortunes with Trulli sixth and Ralf 12th, as did Sauber with Massa seventh and Villeneuve ending up 13th. Wurz was seven tenths off teammate Raikkonen in eighth and Heidfeld made it two Williams' in the top ten in ninth.
Barrichello was eight places down from Michael in 11th, which is a bit odd, and Fisichella ended up 15th which he will not be impressed with at all. Red Bull fell away from its performances in the flyaway races and Coulthard and Liuzzi were 14th and 16th respectively. Jordan and Minardi held station at the back.
In the first three events the positions from Saturday qualifying have rarely changed in Sunday morning's session, but with Raikkonen and Alonso so close it could be either of them on pole. Michael and Webber have a chance but the gap of four tenths gives the two front runners a reasonable safety net.
As for the race, well anything could happen -- but it promises to be a good one. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Alonso, Schumacher, Webber, Button, Trulli, Massa, Wurz.