Having performed well throughout the weekend's practice sessions, hopes were high for the Shell-supported Ferrari team in the qualifying session for tomorrow's San Marino Grand Prix. The track was cold and the skies were grey but as the session ...
Having performed well throughout the weekend's practice sessions, hopes were high for the Shell-supported Ferrari team in the qualifying session for tomorrow's San Marino Grand Prix. The track was cold and the skies were grey but as the session progressed, the track came to life with some of the finest qualifying displays of the year and Ferrari finished the day the perfect result, a front row lockout.
Before the session, talk was of the weather and teams were hoping the threatening rain would at least hold off until after this session. For the drivers, changeable weather is a great concern, and Ferrari's technical partner Shell has taken great care to ensure that its products will work in all conditions.
Speaking after qualifying, Shell's Motorsport Business Manager David Barnes said, "Over the past few days we have seen all sorts of conditions here, the cars have been running on wets, intermediates and slicks (tyres) and Shell's products have performed well in all these conditions, shown I think by Ferrari's dominance here. It's also good to have our mobile analysis laboratory back with us now we are in Europe." He continued. "The engineers can work well here in good calm conditions, in fact Michael's car is in scrutineering at the moment and the Shell engineers are there to ensure that all is in order. The new car is performing well and tomorrow should be a good race."
Ralf Schumacher was first of the title contenders to make a serious stab at getting a good time with his Williams and clocked 1.22.651 to take provisional pole. Close behind him was his team-mate, Juan Pablo Montoya who having been baulked on the last two corners put his Williams second with a time of 1.23.233.
The Ferrari's made their first appearance of the session 13 minutes into the sessions with Rubens Barrichello at the wheel of an F2002. The car he used was in fact, until this morning Michael's T-car, but a last minute change saw it configured for Rubens' use. Impressively, his first flying lap of 1.22.242 was good enough for provisional pole position, but shortly behind him was his team mate Michael Schumacher, who not to be outdone, put his F2002 provisionally second, only 0.023 behind Rubens. Two Ferraris on the front row was enough to send the tifosi wild with delight, but Williams seemed determined to spoil their fun as Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher almost instantly posted two times to knock the Ferraris back to third and fourth.
A roar from the grandstands greeted the Scuderia's next foray onto the track and Rubens Barrichello did not disappoint, knocking nearly half a second off of Ralf's quickest time to take the pole back into his hands with a time of 1.21.155. Michael's second 'flyer', shortly after Rubens' effort, was also quicker, putting him third with 1.21.691. Halfway through the session and the atmosphere was tense to say the least with the top four positions reading Ferrari, Williams, Ferrari, Williams. The two Saubers were also performing well in fifth and sixth.
As the leaders returned to the garages to fine-tune their cars and review their laps thus far, the rest of the grid was forming behind them but no one managed to touch the times of the top four.
Michael was the first to retake to the track, shortly followed by his brother and Juan Pablo Montoya with a little over fifteen minutes remaining. The showdown had begun. Michael was, as usual, un-touchable through the first two chicanes of Tamburello and Villeneuve, but just fell short of Rubens' provisional pole time by 0.057 to take second place. Behind him on track, both Williams cars improved their times, but neither could challenge the Ferraris and the British team's cars sat third and fourth once again.
Then in the dying minutes of the session, the track came alive, with all drivers using their last few laps to try and better their times. Ralf blew his chance running wide at the exit of Tamburello. Montoya on the other hand was on a quick one, but a small error at the Variante Alta also cost him any chance of improvement. Behind him, Rubens was quick, but not quick enough to improve on his provisional pole time and all eyes were on Michael who crossed the line as the chequered flag fell and took pole position with a time of 1.21.091. It was classic Schumacher and proof, if proof were needed, as to why he is World Champion. He was just 0.064 faster than Rubens.
With Michael's pole time significantly quicker than last year's it is easy to see why the relentless pace of technology in Formula One makes it an ideal testing ground for Shell's products. A Ferrari lockout at the front sees the two Williams hold the second line and a late rally from McLaren sees an all grey third row. Tomorrow's race is set to be a classic.