Ferrari lead the way

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher 

 Â© The Cahier Archive

Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello ended Friday with the first and second fastest times, despite the fact that the two Ferrari drivers ran at either ends of the first qualifying session. In the course of the session the track temperature rose and fell by more than 10-degrees and that had effect on those who ran on the track when it was at its hottest but the overall pattern was not a big surprise although for the second consecutive meeting Ralf Schumacher was a long way from the pace.

Most of the work being done on Friday was to figure out which tyres were the best for qualifying and the rest and Ferrari, which lost last year because of an advantage which Michelin seemed to have, was much happier with the latest Bridgestone rubber.

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn made it very clear that the tyre choice was still difficult.

"It is a bit difficult here," he said. "Having said that Bridgestone hasefinitely improved over last year. We are now trying to calculate how much fuel our rivals were carrying, working on comparisons between the sessions today."

Williams ended up with the third fastest car - as was the case in qualifying in Melbourne - with Juan Pablo Montoya at the wheel. Ralf Schumacher was way down in 13th with a car that was so bad that Ralf actually radioed into the pits during his lap to say that he was struggling.

"The car felt right this morning," he said, "but when I went into qualifying I had big oversteer."

McLaren was on the pace as well with Kimi Raikkonen fourth and David Coulthard, the first man to run, fifth.

"David had a fairly routine morning," said the team's Martin Whitmarsh. "He was not comfortable with the set-up and going out first is not easy but it was a reasonable performance. Kimi made a mistake this morning and he had an excursion which meant that we had limited track time so our programme did not allow us any low fuel running."

Kimi also made a mistake on his qualifying lap so clearly he might have been faster.

The Renault F1 team ended up with Jarno Trulli in sixth place and Fernando Alonso 10th, despite the team's obvious lack of horsepower. The team had no real complaints despite the fact that Alonso had more oversteer than he wanted and so was unable to match Trulli.

Sauber was on the pace as well with Nick Heidfeld seventh and Heinz-Harald Frentzen eighth. Both drivers had struggled early in the day but the team took the brave decision to go for a big change in the aerodynamic set-up and it proved to be the right thing to do.

BAR was on the pace as well and although Jenson Button was ninth, Jacques Villeneuve was 15th. Both men complained of oversteer.

Toyota was also struggling a little with Cristiano da Matta 10th and Olivier Panis 14th. The drivers also complained of oversteer.

Further back Jordan was rather disappointing with Giancarlo Fisichella 12th but Ralph Firman back in 17th place, after suffering from a suspension failure in the morning session. Jordan was complaining of understeer and graining of tyres, which gave the team something to think about.

Jaguar had a pretty miserable day with Antonio Pizzonia unable to set a time after his car refused to fire up for his run. The team spent most of the day trying to track down a fuel pressure problem. As a result the team did not bother with any light fuel load running. Mark Webber was a disappointed 16th but blamed himself for having made a mistake in testing and lost a lot of time after a big spin which meant that the car needed the front suspension changed.

Down at the back were the two Minardis with Jos Verstappen 18th and Justin Wilson 19th.


Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:34.980): "We had a great day today, without any mistakes and the track was quite clean. My lap was neat and tidy. We had a very good set-up having made improvements to the car in the break between the two sessions. Overall we are very happy with these conditions and our starting position for tomorrow's qualifying and I am looking forward to it. I just hope there is no rain,even though I am fully aware there is always a chance of a downpour here."

Rubens Barrichello (2nd, 1:35.681): "It was quite a good day today. It is really hot out on the track, which seems to be getting better and better all the time. I feel good about it because we tried a lot of things. Right now the car is not at its best, but there are some things we plan to try tomorrow morning.That way we will be ready for the afternoon. I am happy to be on the provisional front row."

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "We witnessed a strong performance from both Ferraris today. Having set the two quickest times, Michael and Rubens will be able to run last in tomorrow's session which will establish the grid for Sunday. The Friday afternoon session now takes on extra importance, as it is the only time that the cars can demonstrate their maximum performance, given that tomorrow afternoon the cars must run with the fuel load with which they intend to start the race. The new rules have also reduced to just one hour the amount of time one can spend on Friday working towards the race and therefore we have to try and make the most of the ninety minutes tomorrow morning. These past few days have been very hot and that has made life difficult, not just for the cars and drivers out on the track, but also for the engineers and mechanics working here."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Friday is not completely indicative of what to expect for the rest of the weekend, but first and second is obviously better than having a problem! The key issue now is to sort out tyres and set-up as Sunday's race will be very hard on the tyres. Michael was happy with the balance of his car, Rubens less so, but conditions were not the same with one driving at the beginning of the session and the other at the end. Therefore, tomorrow morning, Michael will be able to concentrate on tyres, with Rubens still looking at his set-up. Both drivers used the same specification tyre. As track conditions change quickly here, tomorrow it will be important to anticipate what will happen."


Juan Pablo Montoya (3rd, 1:35.939): "I am glad as I could get in a pretty good lap. I am quite happy with my car at the moment, in spite of some understeer we now need to address. Ferrari are still quite a bit ahead but it is some comfort for me being ahead of both McLarens. Now we have to decide what we are going to do for tomorrow's qualifying and consequently for the race. Malaysian hot weather doesn't bother me too much, which definitely helps when you have to drive in such extreme conditions."

Ralf Schumacher (13th, 1:36.805): "I am obviously not happy with my performance but to be honest I can't really understand why I am so far behind. In this morning's Free Practice the car behaved well but during the First Qualifying I had to fight with massive oversteer. However, I still have a chance to achieve a good grid position in tomorrow's Final Qualifying. According to the new rules I will have to be out on the track quite early, which is of course a disadvantage."

Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "Juan did a good job today and secured himself a good position for tomorrow's qualifying when he will be out of the pits third last. Ralf obviously had a balance problem which we will have a look at tonight in order to get the car right for tomorrow and for Sunday. We still have quite a bit of work ahead of us. Ferrari have proved they still have a big advantage. The track temperature is very high, 61 deg C on the tarmac, so this will put a high demand on the tyres for the race."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Apart from Michael Schumacher's huge advantage, it was an exciting qualifying with close lap times. Today one had to pay the price for even the smallest mistake. Juan Pablo did a very good lap. Ralf was not happy with the balance of his car which had consequences in every single corner. For our BMW engine, the most important factor during this weekend is the heat. So far, we have had no problems with it."


Kimi Raikkonen (4th, 1:36.038): "Today was not too bad. I lost a bit of track time this morning after I went wide during practice so the set up of the car is still not perfect. During my qualifying lap I made a small mistake in the last corner and lost some time. However I'm not too concerned as tomorrow is when it really counts and hopefully then I can put together a perfect lap."

David Coulthard (5th, 1:36.297): "My qualifying lap today was definitely better than the one in Melbourne but still a bit conservative as I didn't want to make a mistake. As I'm leading the Championship I was the first one out of the pits today and its obviously a disadvantage as the track is dirty at the beginning and tends to get cleaned up throughout the session. We still have some work to do as my lap time was slower than this morning's when I had more fuel."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "A relatively satisfying session with both drivers concentrating on finishing their lap and not risk too much as qualifying for the starting grid is tomorrow."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A reasonable basis for tomorrow. As predicted Michael Schumacher and Ferrari are still the benchmark."


Jarno Trulli (6th, 1:36.301): "It was a good Friday session. This morning we had a productive test and free practice session, trying different set-ups and tyres in preparation for the race. This afternoon the car was very well balanced and our times are close to those of the top teams, so everything is looking good at the moment, for tomorrows qualifying."

Fernando Alonso (10th, 1:36.693): "I think it was a good day for us overall. This morning we ran on a damp track, which allowed us to test a couple of things in case of rain in Sundays race. This afternoon, our lap times look quite competitive and I am confident we can move up in tomorrows qualifying."

Pat Symonds, Executive Engineering Director: "It was a pretty straightforward session and we are reasonably satisfied. Jarnos sixth place is quite encouraging, it reflects where we expected to be. Fernando could have done better on his lap, but with this new regulations, drivers have to get used to new driving techniques, which come with experience. But with the amount of work accomplished since this morning, we feel very confident for Sundays race."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "A very good job from the Team this morning, which resulted in a very good 6th place with Jarno, positioned amongst the top teams, which reveals the potential of the car. From the engine point of view, we are very pleased to have run a troublefree full day."


Nick Heidfeld (7th, 1:36.407): "We made some key changes to the car after I experienced a ride height problem in my last two outings this morning that destroyed the balance. This afternoon the car was transformed and we were able to make some huge progress. I'm satisfied with what we achieved, and optimistic for what we can do with the car tomorrow."

Heinz-Harald Frentzen (8th, 1:36.615): "This morning I did one flying lap and then my car stopped because of a minor electrical problem. Under the new rules the marshals may return the car to the pits, so I was able to continue at the end of the session. Bearing the loss of track time in mind I'm delighted with eighth place this afternoon. It's better than I expected. The car was well balanced, and I think we have a good direction for tomorrow."

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "This is a fantastic result at this beautiful and challenging track, especially after the problems we had this morning. Thanks to both drivers and to the team for this gift for our partner Petronas on its home ground."


Giancarlo Fisichella (12th, 1:36.759): "Not too bad. The target was to be in the top ten and Iím just two positions lower. I was in good shape for most of the lap but unfortunately in the last three corners I had quite a lot of graining and lost three or four tenths of a second. So we have to solve that problem and then I think itís going to be reasonably good."

Ralph Firman (17th, 1:38.240): "I lost a bit of set-up time because of the front suspension failure during Free Practice and unfortunately today I just had a little bit too much understeer. Hopefully we can resolve that and Iím looking forward to qualifying tomorrow."

Gary Anderson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "We had no real dramas today. Giancarlo had some tyre graining in the last few corners which probably lost him three or four grid positions. In general the car wasnít bad other than that. We will find a way to reduce the tyre graining for tomorrow and hopefully we can pick up a few places on the grid."


Mark Webber (16th, 1:37.669): "Apart from the fuel pick-up issue which affected both Antonio and I all day, my spin into the gravel cost me the most. I was just pushing too hard going into turn ten and lost the back end. I was surprised, however, at how much damage the gravel caused to the car and because of this, I missed all but the last five minutes of the Free Practice session. Because of how much time I lost today, I didn't get anywhere near enough time to work on set-up. Going into qualifying, the car felt quite good but the fuel pick-up issue kicked in and cost me some time today. Let's hope for some decent mileage tomorrow during the two morning warm-up sessions and see whether we can compensate for some of our misfortune today."

Antonio Pizzonia (20th, No Time): "A disappointing start to the weekend. I managed to get over 40 laps under my belt this morning before qualifying and got used to the track quite quickly. The Sepang circuit is very wide and offers a driver so many choices when it comes to entering corners. I like the circuit but it takes time to fully exploit the varying lines on offer to a driver. With that in mind, I was obviously looking forward to qualifying but lady luck went against me today. The team is investigating the cause of the start-up issue that cost me my qualifying slot. I think I missed it by around five seconds but under the new rules, it was five seconds too late and we paid the price. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we will focus our efforts to strategy and in particular, race preparation. As we saw with Mark in Melbourne, you don't necessarily have to start at the front of the grid to end up racing with the front-runners under the new rules and strategies. We'll do our homework and hope that our approach isn't compromised by the problems we suffered today."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "A frustrating day but we'll re-group and focus our attentions on the weekend ahead. The fuel pick-up problem is not something we experienced during winter testing or at the last race in Melbourne. This issue affected both drivers all day and going into qualifying, we took some precautionary measures against this. We were, however, caught completely unaware of a problem which, quite frankly, we have never experienced before, It is unclear as to why at this stage, but for some inexplicable reason, we couldn't start Antonio's car. By the time it started and Antonio had made his way up the pitlane, the red light came on and Antonio had missed his slot. Naturally, we are all very disappointed ? particularly as Antonio had generated enough decent mileage in the lead-up to qualifying to have done a good job. Mark, on the other hand, managed a reasonably clean lap but the fuel pick- up issue cost him a few tenths. This new qualifying format combined with the strategies that teams carry into the race means that we still have a lot to play for. Not the best start, but the weekend is far from over."


Jenson Button (9th, 1:36.632): "The balance has changed quite a lot since this morning when I was struggling with too much understeer. I had a lot more oversteer this afternoon. We did some set-up changes to help the oversteer but it just seems to have got worse again. Maybe its the circuit but it was quite snappy everywhere under braking. Considering the way the car was, I dont think the lap was too bad really. Theres a lot to be gained which is positive and Im sure well see an improvement tomorrow."

Jacques Villeneuve (15th, 1:37.585): "The differential wasnt working properly this morning so we werent really sure what the car balance was at the end of practice. We changed the car set-up and brakes for qualy so it was a little bit of an unknown. The car itself was quite quick, not as competitive as Melbourne though. I was trying hard and made a mistake in the last two corners and paid the price by having a slow lap."

David Richards, Team Principal: "We did a lot of good work this morning but the qualifying set-up gave far too much oversteer and neither driver was able to get the best out of the car. I'm very confident that the engineers will be able to address the balance issue overnight and the good news is there's still a lot of performance to come from the car."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "We had a reasonably productive morning. Everything went to plan on both cars and we achieved the longer runs, set-up work and tyre comparison that we needed. This afternoon, we didn't get the best out of either car and both drivers have been complaining about oversteer, but we should be able to overcome any issues and enjoy a positive day tomorrow. We're reasonably happy with what we have achieved today though."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Both drivers had a good session this morning and I'd hoped for better results this afternoon, but ninth and 15th isn't too bad. Our engines were in good shape throughout both sessions so I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow when it really counts."


Jos Verstappen (18th, 1:38.904): "We got through a fair amount of work today. We changed the car a bit and were quicker in qualifying this afternoon than we were this morning. It has been a solid start to the weekend and we can certainly build on today's performance. The car ran reliably throughout testing and practice, which is good ? first and foremost, we need to finish the race because if you are around at the chequered flag, you never know what can happen."

Justin Wilson (19th, 1:39.354): "It has not been a bad day.  Obviously, this is the first time I have driven on this circuit, so it was a case of getting to know the track. There are just one or two small things that you have to learn, which make a difference to the lap time.  Other than that, I'm fairly happy.  My best lap was only four tenths of a second from Jos, so it was not too bad. The car feels much better to drive than it did initially, and there are now just one or two small things that we'll sort out for tomorrow."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "It was a good, productive day for the European Minardi Cosworth team in what were traditional hot and humid conditions at the wonderful Sepang International Circuit. Both drivers completed their full testing programme this morning, and it showed in the competitive times set by then in this afternoon's qualifying session. Jos drove a gutsy lap to put his car into the high-38s, and we were particularly impressed with Justin's time, considering he had never driven at Sepang before today ? he made a very solid improvement during the morning. We look forward to a very productive final qualifying session tomorrow."


Cristiano da Matta (11th, 1:36.706): "The qualifying session today was not too bad for me. It is my first time driving at the Sepang track, so I still have some room for improvement with my driving style here, but it's a track I really enjoy. The first qualifying session for me is always a difficult one because I only have the one-hour free practice in the morning to learn the circuit. Today, we got the balance of the car as close as we could, but tomorrow is another day and I am looking forward to it."

Olivier Panis (14th, 1:36.995): "It has not been a fantastic day to be honest. We experienced some set-up problems in free practice and in the qualifying, so we have a lot of work to do this evening and in the sessions tomorrow to find the best set-up on the car. The main problem today was the grip level, which was not particularly good all day, so we need to improve that for tomorrow. I remain positive though, as I am sure we have some things to play with to find the best solution for second qualifying."

Gustav Brunner, Chief Designer: "I am a bit disappointed with today. There were set-up problems on both cars, more so on Olivier's than Cristiano's, but we need to get the cars right. We have a little bit of set-up work to do. Today we had too much oversteer and too much jumping over the bumps, but we have one-and-a-half hours tomorrow to find a cure for this, so I am still sure we can make a few places up in tomorrow's qualifying and get both cars in the top ten."

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