MARCH 22, 2003
MALAYSIAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Alonso on Pole, Renault front row
Fernando Alonso took his first career pole position in Saturday's qualifying session for the Malaysian Grand Prix at Sepang - leading an all Renault front row. The Spaniard set a lap of 1m37.044s holding off his teammate Jarno Trulli by just under 2 tenths of a second to take pole. The fact remains that the Renault team probably ran with a lighter fuel load than the other top teams to achieve the result, and this should translate into a shorter first stint in the race tomorrow.
Michael Schumacher took third place on the grid in his Ferrari - the first time since the Malaysian Grand Prix's inception that the German driver has not been on pole - while his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello was fifth fastest.
In between the Ferrari drivers, David Coulthard took fourth place on the grid in his McLaren-Mercedes, while the Sauber-Petronas of Nick Heidfeld took sixth, Kimi Raikkonen in the second McLaren was seventh.
Juan Pablo Montoya could only manage the eighth fastest time in his Williams-BMW, while his teammate had a tough time and qualified 17th.
Jenson Button took ninth place - beating his more experienced teammate, Jacques Villeneuve, who only managed 12th place in his BAR-Honda. In between were the two Toyotas of Olivier Panis and newcomer Cristiano da Matta in 10th and 11th places.
Michael Schumacher (3rd, 1:37.393): "First of all, I must thank the guys for doing such a good job to get my car ready, after I had a gearbox problem in the warm-up. There was no time to actually change settings, we just got it to work. I was happy with my lap and third was the best I could do today. I do not want to take anything away from Renault's achievement, as they did a good job, but I hope we have the right strategy for the race, but will not know until tomorrow afternoon. As for the one lap qualifying, when I am on my flying lap, I do not think about the fact it is my only chance. I simply do the job. But with only having one chance, it does mean that if the car could not be fixed then I would have missed my chance to qualify. I am not bothered about my run of poles here being interrupted. Pole is a fantastic bonus, but the new rules mean you have to focus on the race."
Rubens Barrichello (5th, 1:37.579): "It was a pretty normal day. The car seems to be in very good shape for tomorrow's race. We worked with the race in mind, but that does not mean I wasn't pushing hard in qualifying. Tomorrow, it will be important to be patient to see how the situation evolves on the track and not to get involved in any possible hot moments at the start."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "This afternoon's result, with one car on the second row and the other on the third,puts us in a good position for tomorrow's race. The new rules mean that a driver must qualify with the fuel load which he will use when forming up on the start grid for the race the following day. This means there are several key elements which can be taken into account when determining strategy. In the race, tyre degradation will be an important factor, with the heat making life difficult for car and driver. Indeed, these are the conditions we have experienced since the start of the weekend and the mechanics are doing a great job. Once again, they will play an important role in tomorrow's proceedings during the pit-stops."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "It is going to be a very hard race tomorrow, but we will have to wait and see how it develops. The start is later than usual, at 3pm and we have seen over the past few days that is the time when weather conditions change. If it was to cloud over at that time, that would probably work in our favour. From the data we acquired I think we made the best tyre choice for the rest of the weekend. The grid positions highlight the effect of the new rules, as teams can chose their qualifying fuel level and carry it through to the race. Tomorrow, we will find out how much fuel the front row runners really have on board."
Juan Pablo Montoya (8th, 1:37.974): "I had some balance problems, which were expected with the set up we need for the race on this track. I was very worried when I saw Ralf's lap though, as he was struggling with his balance quite a lot. However, I had am pretty happy that we are quite close to McLaren and I think that we look pretty good for the race thanks to our strategy."
Ralf Schumacher (17th, 1:38.789): "I am still not happy with the balance of my car and in addition to this I made a couple of mistakes in two corners, where I lost some time. Anyway, I shouldn't be 8 tenths away from my team mate. It's clear that I have to get used to this new qualifying system. Nevertheless I believe we have a good strategy compared to the other teams and our performance will improve for Sunday."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "Even though it is difficult to tell where everybody is because of the fuel loads for the race, we expected to be higher on the grid with both cars. Juan did a good job, though. Now we have to work out how to get the most out of these grid positions."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Congratulation to Renault for having placed both their cars on the first row. With position 8 and 17 our cars are a bit far behind. We will know only tomorrow in the race how much these positions will affect our performance. It's mostly about the different fuel load and the tyre choice. Furthermore here in Sepang there's always the chance of a rainstorm. I think the viewers will enjoy an eventful and entertaining race."
David Coulthard (4th, 1:37.454): "It's hard with these one lap runs to be completely satisfied with your performance particularly in these hot conditions. I made no big mistakes but I understeered a little at turn nine and the corner onto the back straight, so I was a little bit slower with the acceleration than I expected. As a result we could have been quicker but probably not as fast as the Renaults. However we hope that their strategy will see them pit earlier than us, and I think we can have a good race tomorrow."
Kimi Raikkonen (7th, 1:37.858): "My lap today wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't brilliant either. I locked the rear of the car under braking at the hairpin, which lost me some time, but fortunately I kept the car on the circuit. We will see what happens tomorrow, as there is a different starting grid. As there is not a lot of testing time during a Grand Prix weekend anymore, we will see how everybody copes with the race distance and hopefully the people at the front are running on low fuel levels."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "An interesting qualifying that has given us grid positions which represent the varying fuel loads. It should be another fascinating race."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "An interesting starting grid. Although we possibly could have done better today, we should be well prepared for the race tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso (1st, 1:37.044): "First of all, a big thank you to the whole team for helping Jarno and myself to get this fantastic first and second positions on the grid. I have still not completely realised that today I have my first pole position, just at the second race of the season. I am simply delighted and very confident that tomorrow we can finish well this special weekend, scoring more points for the team."
Jarno Trulli (2nd, 1:37.217): I am extremely happy for this excellent result today for me and Fernando. It's a pleasant surprise to see how well our car performed today. It feels great to be in front of the top teams: this means that we have taken the right direction, improving day by day and that we are finally getting good results for all our efforts and the team's hard work."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "We had an excellent qualifying session. It was very exciting for the whole team. Both drivers were absolutely perfect on their flying laps. We expected our car to be more competitive here than two weeks ago in Melbourne, but honestly we didn't go out thinking of getting the pole. We are very pleased and confident for tomorrow."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "We are more than satisfied to have placed both cars on the first row of the starting grid. This result confirms the good level of our performance and the quality of our drivers and the excellent job the team has done in recent weeks. We didn't have any mechanical problems today and we are very optimistic for the race."
Nick Heidfeld (6th, 1:37.766): "This morning there were a couple of things about the car's set-up that I wasn't happy with, but though my lap this afternoon wasn't as smooth as yesterday's qualifying lap, I'm quite happy. We improved the balance, particularly in the third sector, and I'm confident that we can do something good tomorrow starting from sixth place on the grid."
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (13th, 1:38.291): "Obviously I was running a different strategy to Nick, and I was pleased with my lap. I was pretty much on the limit, the balance of the car was good, and I am on target for the strategy I was running."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "In Melbourne running two different strategies in qualifying paid off for us in the race, and I believe that the situation is the same here in Sepang. Congratulations to Nick for his third row position, and thanks to Heinz-Harald for a strong performance."
Giancarlo Fisichella (14th, 1:38.416): "The lap was okay. We have chosen to go with the hard tyres which maybe is not fantastic for qualifying but it could be good for tomorrow. So I hope the race will be a better reflection of our potential."
Ralph Firman (20th, 1:40.910): "The circuit has changed a lot from this morning with the temperature going up, and as a result I experienced a lot of oversteer in the last sector. But I'm reasonably satisfied with that and hopefully tomorrow will be good."
Gary Anderson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "With the regulation changes it's very difficult to know where anybody is until we see the race happen. Hopefully it will be a straightforward race as we'd like to get an accurate idea of where we are, for the first time this year, in normal conditions. I thought we would be a little bit better in qualifying than we are. I thought we might be able to crack the top ten but we didn't quite make it. The temperature affects the balance and the grip and we never really got on top of it. Let's wait and see tomorrow."
Antonio Pizzonia (15th, 1:38.516): "Given the problems that I suffered during qualifying in Melbourne and not getting a run yesterday, I am very pleased to have bagged my first clean qualifying lap for Jaguar. It wasn't ideal being the first driver on the track, particularly as it was quite dirty in places. Compared to this morning, the track was also much hotter and this made it slower. Nonetheless, I wanted to complete a clean lap and didn't aim for anything too special. I didn't make any mistakes during my run but it was a little conservative. I wanted to do a good job and given our strategy for tomorrow's race, it was very important not to make any silly mistakes through over-exuberance. The car felt pretty good throughout the lap but let's now see what happens in the race tomorrow. The fuel pick-up problem we suffered from yesterday bit this morning a few times during the warm-up sessions but the guys seem to have found a short-term fix which I hope keeps us going through to the chequered flag tomorrow."
Mark Webber (16th, 1:38.624): "A day of mixed emotions for me. I was very pleased with how my qualifying lap was going up until the final hairpin where I lost around three-tenths of a second. It's a shame but I'll just have to push that much harder tomorrow. The team have done an admirable job over the past 24 hours given the problems we had but there is still a race distance to get through tomorrow, albeit a very tough race indeed given the extreme heat and humidity. The Jaguar R4 was quite well balanced today and this makes my final lap time all the more disappointing when you look at my sector one and sector two times. Nonetheless, it is pleasing to be alongside my team-mate for tomorrow's race and as was the case in Melbourne, our strategy should, I hope, stand us in reasonably good stead over the race. It's all to play for."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "We are quite pleased given the frustrating issues we have suffered here all weekend. Both Mark and Antonio did a good job out there. In Antonio's case, it was particularly impressive given his lack of experience on this circuit and because he was also the first man out today, he held his composure well. We obviously have a clear strategy in mind going into tomorrow's race and given the pace of our cars today, we are quite encouraged. You only need look at the sector times and they speak for themselves. Mark's sector two time is only a tenth slower than the Ferrari of Michael Schumacher and unlike yesterday, we suffered no fuel pick-up problems. The team worked till very late last night in an effort to find an interim solution to the fuel pickup problem and we believe we have one. Back at the factory, however, the guys are already on the case with a view to finding a proper fix prior to the Brazilian Grand Prix. Either way, we are in pleasing shape for tomorrow and coupled with the strength of the Michelin tyre over a race distance, our aim is to cross the finishing line with both cars. We have optimised our strategy for tomorrow and unlike yesterday, we have successfully completed the first phase of that today."
Jenson Button (9th, 1:38.073): "It's nice to be inside the top 10 but I didn't think the lap was going to be as quick as it was; I was a little bit disappointed with it at the end. The first sector seemed good to me then I made a mistake in each of the last two sectors. I think the time I gained under braking led me to make those mistakes so I guess I was just pushing too hard. This is roughly where we'd expected to be after a difficult morning in which we veered between oversteer and too much understeer before it started to come together. I think we're running a good fuel load for tomorrow so I'm optimistic."
Jacques Villeneuve (12th, 1:38.289): "We've improved the car a lot during the weekend and the balance was quite good for qualifying but I made an error in the hairpin and lost some time. Too bad, because the car was a lot better today. I'm a little less worried than I was yesterday but I'm starting from the sixth row of the grid which isn't going to help but I'm confident for tomorrow having concentrated on race set-up and strategy."
David Richards, Team Principal: "A top 10 performance was possible for both drivers but the middle of the grid is so tight that a couple of mistakes can make a big difference. Nonetheless, we are still well-placed for our strategy tomorrow and it will be interesting to see how the race unfolds."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "The target for a Saturday afternoon is to qualify to your strategy; to get exactly where you should be for your fuel load. The drivers are reasonably happy with where they've finished the session although both made mistakes and feel there was more in the car today. When all the strategies unfold tomorrow we'll see exactly what the relative performance is."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "We've had an encouraging day overall, but I don't think ninth and 12th is a true reflection of our pace. Both drivers did a good job and their performance today fits in with our race strategy. I'm optimistic - it's a very close grid and one way or another the weather is going to play a big part tomorrow."
Jos Verstappen (18th, 1:40.417): "Today's qualifying session was more difficult than yesterday's, when I had a pretty good balance in my car.†This afternoon, we experienced a lot more oversteer, and I think I lost considerable time in the middle sector, where normally it should be good.†If the weather tomorrow is like today, my feeling is that we will be heading for a tough race."
Justin Wilson (19th, 1:40.599): "We improved the car as the day progressed, and although the time this afternoon isn't quite what we had hoped for, I'm not too disappointed, all things considered.†It's also nice personally to have completed my first Formula One qualifying session.†Now we'll just have to wait and see what happens in the race tomorrow."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "First of all, our heartiest congratulations go to Fernando Alonso and Renault.†There was a big cheer in the Minardi garage when it was clear he had taken his first-ever Formula One pole position, as we still consider him ?family'.†This afternoon's qualifying session was also a classic demonstration of the excitement the new Formula One rules have brought to the sport.†Minardi had an almost trouble-free day, apart from a slight issue with one of the wheels on Justin's car.†Despite the problem being quickly rectified, it cost him valuable time during his preparations for the final qualifying session.†As usual, Jos delivered everything asked of him today, and the qualifying laps for both drivers were realistically the best we could expect, given our strategy for tomorrow's race.†All in all, a job well done by both Justin and Jos today."
Olivier Panis (10th, 1:38.094): "Definitely, I feel that we have improved the car a lot for today. We struggled with the set-up in free practice yesterday, so we worked a lot overnight and made some real improvements. As a result, we have been a little bit more competitive, and I think we have worked really hard this morning to choose the best strategy for tomorrow's race. Overall I am quite positive and happy with tenth on the grid."
Cristiano Da Matta (11th, 1:38.097): "It was unfortunate that we had to change to the spare car for qualifying today. The car still performed well, but I didn't have everything 100% tuned the way I wanted. Considering that I changed cars and that it's my first Malaysian GP, I am happy with eleventh place, but it could have been even better. The car has been running well today and if we look at the big picture, I think we are looking in pretty good shape."
Keizo Takahashi, General Manager, Car Design and Development: "In the morning practice session, we had some problems on Olivier's car but the overall set up of both cars was much better than yesterday. We are very satisfied with the result for both drivers in this qualifying session. Okay, it could have been a bit better, but we set regular top ten qualifying results as one of our targets for this season, which we achieved today and tomorrow we have the opportunity to realise the second of these aims, namely to win some world championship points."