Michael Schumacher claimed pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix in today's qualifying session, his first ever pole at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Despite being a five-time winner in Belgium, it took Schumacher until today to hit the front...
Michael Schumacher claimed pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix in today's qualifying session, his first ever pole at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit. Despite being a five-time winner in Belgium, it took Schumacher until today to hit the front of the grid but he did it in fine style despite the best efforts of McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen.
After Mark Webber's first lap, only Schumacher and Raikkonen held provisional pole in a little battle all of their own. The Finn had been setting a blistering pace all weekend and set the fastest time of 1:44.741 on his first flying lap. Schumacher responded with a 1:43.994 which Raikkonen crept closer to but couldn't quite beat. Amazingly, Raikkonen's fastest lap was set despite driving blind into a cloud of smoke after Olivier Panis' BAR Honda engine blew.
On a flyer, Raikkonen hurtled into the thick smoke without even lifting: a very brave move that required a massive amount of commitment. A stupid move, some might say, as he had no idea if he had a clear track in front of him. But there was no problem, except not being able to go faster than Schumacher.
Rubens Barrichello couldn't get close enough to the top two and settled for third and while Williams were in the fray, neither Ralf Schumacher or Juan Pablo Montoya were able to improve beyond fourth and fifth respectively. David Coulthard was half a second slower than Raikkonen in sixth. The Michelin runners were on the pace, outclassing Bridgestone by eight to two in the top ten.
The Spa circuit has changed from last year and not for the better according to some. At Blanchimont the gravel has been replaced by tarmac near the top if the hill and high fencing has been erected behind the tyre wall where Luciano Burti had his horrific looking shunt last year. The Bus Stop chicane has an altered exit, which is faster, and the pit lane entrance is a bone of contention. Entering through the first part of the Bus Stop, drivers are heading at speed towards a barrier as well as a rain gully to take into consideration.
Both Renaults made the top ten, Jarno Trulli in seventh ahead of Jenson Button who was tenth, an uneventful session for them. Aside from Raikkonen's great performance, the improvement of the weekend so far was Jaguar. Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa qualified eighth and eleventh respectively, their best positions of the season. A strengthened front end and revised suspension on the R3 seems to have given them a good kick up the grid.
Mika Salo and Allan McNish also put in good performances for Toyota, Salo making the top ten in ninth. Salo shrugged off his impending retirement at the end of this season that he announced this weekend: "It's time for me to move over and let someone else play with the toys," he said before qualifying. "I decided Toyota would be my last (team)." McNish was thirteenth.
BAR had an unsettled session; as well as Panis' blown engine, Jacques Villeneuve spun off backwards into the gravel at the fourth corner. The pair qualified 15th and 12th after their incidents. Jordan didn't have a great time; Giancarlo Fisichella beached his car in the gravel and had to scoot back to the pits for the T-car. Luckily the spare was set up for him and also had the Honda qualifying engine fitted -- it didn't benefit the Italian much though, ending up 14th and Takuma Sato 16th.
Sauber remained bafflingly off the pace. Hardly noticeable on track, Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld qualified a lowly 17th and 18th. Mark Webber and Anthony Davidson were 19th and 20th and easily inside the 107%. Paul Stoddart was effusive about his drivers before the session: "He turned up at Hungary for the first time on the circuit and the first time in the car," he said of Davidson. "And he's woken people up in the pit lane. He's been here (Spa) before and he's close to Mark. He has a great future, as does Mark who's a great driver. I certainly wouldn't discount him (Davidson) driving for Minardi or someone else next year."
Michael and Raikkonen stole the show, no-one else looked like getting near them and aside from their display it was a fairly static session. The times improved but the names remained mostly the same within the top ten. The familiar front of the grid with Ferrari, Williams, McLaren and Renault persisted in varying positions with the odd extras thrown in, Jaguar the only real surprise of the day. Final top six classification: M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Barrichello, R. Schumacher, Montoya, Coulthard.