INDIANAPOLIS, September 26, 2003 - Pre-qualifying for the United States Grand Prix was dictated by the weather, which -- as it usually does in Indianapolis -- changed immeasurably during the hour-long session. At the close, it was Renault's...
INDIANAPOLIS, September 26, 2003 - Pre-qualifying for the United States Grand Prix was dictated by the weather, which -- as it usually does in Indianapolis -- changed immeasurably during the hour-long session.
At the close, it was Renault's Jarno Trulli in front, just as he had been in both the two-hour test session and in official practice earlier today, logging a lap of 1:09.566 around the 2.605-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway 13-corner road circuit. "I think we learned a lot about the personality of our car today. We did a very good lap."
The eighth driver out for a flying lap, Trulli was fortunate to get his tour in before the skies erupted with first a moderate mist and later a downpour that took final times into the 80-second bracket. This surely was a day when points from the previous 14 races paid off.
Second this afternoon, Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello easily bested teammate Michael Schumacher by lapping at 1:09.835 and wished, "I hope it rains tomorrow. We turned a nice lap and got everything out of it. It's going to be a close battle this weekend."
Jaguar's Mark Webber has shown great proficiency in pre-qualifying, yet seems to have difficulty backing it up was third at 1:10.081. He recognized, "It was quite tough for everyone. The only time we tried low fuel was in the qualifying session itself," the Aussie said. When he went out, "the track was a bit more greasy than this morning's session and I'm happy with my lap."
Ralf Schumacher showed few effects of his Monza test shunt in his Williams as he recorded the fastest speed down the massive Brickyard straightaway at 353.9km/h and was fourth at 1:10.222. "It wasn't perfect," he admitted. "I had a bit of a problem with understeer in Turn 1. It's a shame because we couldn't find the optimum balance this morning but we had very little running in dry conditions. It is encouraging for tomorrow."
Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya, lying three points behind Michael Schumacher in the title chase, was second out of the gate and lapped at 1:10.372 seconds to set the fifth-quickest lap. Montoya admitted, "It was a bit of a gamble to know if the setup of the car was okay for qualifying, since this morning I didn't get much running in the dry." Braking too early, Montoya "lost a bit of time in a couple of corners. I hope it will be dry tomorrow and Sunday, notwithstanding the fact that Michelin has brought here some very competitive wet tires."
David Coulthard bested his younger McLaren teammate Kimi Raikkonen with a lap of 1:10.450, good for sixth. The Scot "only managed to do one proper run on dry tyres in this morning's practice before it started to rain, so qualifying was a bit of a journey into the unknown. It was spitting with rain as I was starting my lap, which always makes you a bit apprehensive. I went a bit sideways in the last corner, so there is still room for improvement."
Fernando Alonso of Renault was seventh at 1:10.556 saying, "Our time today is okay. Our goal is always to do the maximum and the Renault is very competitive here. It's a difficult course, with low downforce and a long straight and, from a driver's point of view, that always makes it interesting."
Michael Schumacher's 1:10.736 lap looked wobbly on the curbs and set him eighth. The five-time World Champion opined, "I can't take much from today, to be honest, because after the rain this morning the circuit got very dirty. Lap times got faster with every car going out putting some rubber down."
Raikkonen was ninth at 1:10.756, despite being faster in the second sector than either Montoya or Schumacher. Raikkonen isn't "too worried about today's result as the car felt good despite us only having limited running in the morning," due to the rain. "I didn't do a very good lap and had a moment early on, so I'm sure we will do better tomorrow."
Tenth today went to BAR/Honda's Jenson Button at 1:11.847, who, "in wet conditions, seems to be relatively quick. In the dry, we seem to be struggling a lot." As his team hasn't tested a lot, "we don't know quite what [Bridgestone] tires to use."
The Panasonic Toyota of rookie Cristiano da Matta at 1:11.949 was 11th. "We were lucky to have a damp track, but we didn't get a chance to run good on a dry track like the other guys did. I am not really worried about the qualifying today," the Brazilian said.
Despite losing valuable track time this morning with engine failure, Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella was 12th in the mist this afternoon at 72.227. "Considering the weather now it was good. I didn't try enough this morning due to an oil leak and an engine going off so I did less than 10 laps, which is not enough. "
He followed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Sauber at 1:13.541. The German was "the last one that was able to go on dry tires and that was a plus. This is the way qualifying is this year and today does not count too much because we have the other one."
The laps of Frentzen and Fisichella looked miserable until the downpour truly began, just as Olivier Panis was about to take his timed laps. As he pulled out for his warm-up, teams were informed that extreme wet weather tires could be utilized for the balance of qualifying, not that it was going to help much. "I had a set of tires for intermediate because we knew how the weather was going to be. I think I had a good car this morning, so let's see how it is going to be tomorrow, said Panis 14th at 1:17.666.
Nick Heidfeld was 15th at 1:17.768 and noted, "The beginning of my run was dry and significantly wetter later on. That was the problem. I just got out when it started to rain heavily."
Jacques Villeneuve took 16th at 1:18.547. The Sauber driver ran his quicker time in even more extreme conditions than Villeneuve, who was on-circuit just before him and said, "This is the second time this year that it's rained on our lap. There's nothing you can do."
Ralph Firman was next up and obligatorily set 17th best speed at 1:19.383, more than 3 seconds back of leader Trulli through the first sector. After sitting out two races, "It feels good to be driving again and it was a pretty good day. We went with deep-groove tires and the downforce went out."
Jos Verstappen, after taking his warmup lap declined to set a time and, therefore, will be first out of the pits when final qualifying commences tomorrow. "It was very disappointing. We had a software problem and could not turn off the speed limiter so came into the pits immediately."
Justin Wilson was next up and 18th in the Jaguar at 1:19.491 and Nicolas Kiesa was 19th at 1:21.973 seconds, the final and slowest driver to take a timed lap as the rain let up for a bit.
Point leader Schumacher was pleased by the turnout, despite cool temperatures in the middle sixties and the on-and-off rain showers all day long. "I'm very surprised about the crowd we are setting today out here. It is much more than we would see in the European Grands Prix so we're pretty happy with that."
He has a reminder for Formula One fans: "The only worry I have is that most of the Americans would probably stay home because they are not used to racing in the wet at Indianapolis. Let me tell you we race in the wet, too."