SAN MARINO GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT

Schumacher front row

Michael Schumacher, San Marino GP 2003

Michael Schumacher, San Marino GP 2003 

 © The Cahier Archive

After Saturday afternoon qualifying in Imola the two men on the front row of the grid disappeared off to catch a plane to Germany. For Michael and Ralf Schumacher the events of the day, which normally would have been a cause for celebration for the family, were of little importance. Their mother Elisabeth was in a very serious state in hospital in Cologne after a domestic accident had led to an emergency operation. The racing was not the most important thing going on in their lives. And yet both men had performed remarkably under the pressures.

Before the personal drama became public, the two men had both spoken of their hopes of winning the race and when one looked at the data it was fair to say that both seemed to have ambitions which could be back up with performance. Michael has not had it easy this year and yet he was right on the pace and indeed reckoned that he would have been even quicker had it not been for a mistake on his qualifying lap. That meant that Ralf was just 0.014s behind him. For Michael it was a moment of vindication after a series of tough races. But for Ralf it as an even sweeter moment because he has been under pressure for failing to deliver the goods this year for the BMW Williams team. Not only did ralf deliver but he did so in very difficult circumstances after having taken to the spare car after crashing his own in the morning.

"It was my own fault," he said. "I just hope that they can repair the car rather than having to switch to the space because the race car was close to being perfect."

In the end the Williams team could not and so Ralf was out in the spare.

The key issue was that the car was a great deal better than it had been in the first three races.

"The car is now so good that I don't want to change it," said Juan Pablo Montoya in the morning. In the afternoon the Colombian made a mistake and dropped a few tenths but he was still the fastest at that point on qualifying with three cars still to run. Ralf was next and his run was very good, despite the fact that he was in the spare, and he crossed the line almost half a second faster than Montoya.

At that point, therefore, the two Williams-BMWs were 1-2 on the grid with the two Ferraris still to run. Rubens Barrichello was next but he too had a problem because he had gone off into a sandtrap in the 15-minute warm-up session just before qualifying began. The Ferrari mechanics had time to get the car cleaned up and checked over but that was it. And Rubens had not run on new tyres as he had hoped to do in the session. So it was a case of going out and seeing what he could do and hoping that he would not push too hard and crash. It was a slightly cautious lap as a result and so he failed to beat Ralf's best time. And it was left to Michael to do the business. As one would expect Michael did it well.

To see the Ferraris and the Williams-BMWs mixing it at the front was really no big surprise but it is still rather strange to see a green car up there ahead of the McLarens but there was Mark Webber doing the business again in the obviously rather useful Jaguar R4. Webber was fifth fastest on Friday and matched that position on Saturday, indicating that this is not a question of fuel loads but rather a clear indication of the performance of the Jaguars. The cars are still frail as Webber found out on Sarturday morning when he missed a lot of the session with hydraulic failure but it was his team mate Antonio Pizzonia who once again got alll the bad luck. He had an engine failure on Friday followed by an electronic problem and then a second engine failure on Saturday.

"I cannot do a single session without a major problem," he said.

Down at Cosworth they were not sure what had happened. Nick Hayes said that all that was left inside the engine was "a pile of shrapnel" and that it would need some jigsaw-puzzling to figure out which part had broken first. The men in Northampton looked forward (sort of) to looking at metal muesli on Monday... Pizzonia did a pretty good job in the circumstances and qualified 15th and there was even the hint of a smile when the session was over.

The McLaren drivers mightr have been able to beat Webber but both made mistakes on their qualifying runs, which left the team a little frustrated with sixth and 12th on the grid for Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard. If the truth be told the cars were well off the pace on Friday and the team never caught up. Even if the drivers haad not made mistakes McLaren would not have been challenging the top four. It was going to be a tough race for both men. But then strategy might play a part for who knows what each man was running in his fuel tank.

The impression was that most people would be going for two stops on Sunday because Imola is a track where you lose a lot of time with a big fuel load, but you never know these days.

In the tradition of the last few races there was no indication of who was running with what fuel load. The top 10 featured a few interesting combinations, not least the presence of Jacques Villeneuve in seventh and Jenson Button ninth in their BAR-Hondas, which featured the latest development version of the Honda V10. Splitting the two BAR men was the Renault of Fernando Alonso and the indications were that the Spaniard might have been running a little less fuel than others, as happened in Malaysia. The one man who was not looking likely to do much on Sundday was Jarno Trulli who was way back in 16th place thanks to a broken engine which meant that he had to switch to the spare car which was set up for Alonso.

Completing the top 10 was Olivier Panis in his Toyota. The cars had been a handful over the kerbs on Friday but some radical work by the engineers found a solution and Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta just got faster and faster. They were 10th and 13th on the grid which was a good effort givent hat both had run early in the session because of the problems on Friday.

Sauber was not a happy bunch although Nick Heidfeld was 11th quickest. This was achieved after a last-minute switch to the spare car. Nick had got fed up with his own car which handled like a pig all weekend. Heinz-Harald Frentzen wouldd almost certainly have beaten Heidfeld but for an engine failure in the Saturday morning session which meant that he had little track time. He was 14th.

Jordan might have won in Brazil a fortnight ago but the general competitiveness of the car is still limited and Giancarlo Fisichella was a rather drab 17th, admitting that he was confused by it all and wondering what strategies others were using. It was a dose of reality. Ralf Firman made a very big mistake early in his flying lap (locking up for a long time going into Tamburello) and so ended up 19th behind Justin Wilson, the faster of the Minardi drivers. Justin had done another solid job whereas Jos Verstappen had smacked into the wall at the Variante Alta. The Dutchman had ended the morning with an engine problem and so had to cope with a new situation on his flying lap. And that ended with a thump.

POST QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE - APRIL 19, 2003

1. Michael SCHUMACHER (FERRARI), 1m22.327s
2. Ralf SCHUMACHER (WILLIAMS), 1m22.341s (+ 0.014s)
3. Rubens BARRICHELLO (FERRARI), 1m22.557s (+ 0.230s)

TV UNILATERALS

Q: Michael, life in your car yet?

Michael SCHUMACHER: We sort of knew the old car was capable of what we proved today although it different, with fuel weight you can play a lot and it will be interesting to see in the end who ends up on what. It is great to be back here and we look forward to tomorrow.

Q: Can you take us through the last few weeks of your life? It has been a difficult start to the season and the last minute decision not to run the car here.

M.Schumacher: Disappointing in a way that I knew before the season that this was not going to be another straightforward season as it was last year. Everything was perfect last year and in the two races, Australia and Brazil in particular with the weather conditions, with the weather conditions was pretty unusual compared to what we had last year and it did work against us. But at the end of the day it is a long season, we are 16 points behind the first driver but that is only after three races. On the other side it should be comfortable because we have plenty of races to go and I think we can make up for the 16 points. I think at least we will try, we will our best for all of our tifosi because I think they deserve it.

Q: Ralf you get it together for the single lap qualifying. Great lap?

Ralf SCHUMACHER: Yeah I thought after the first sector I thought it was going to be a difficult one, surprisingly amazing. After my crash in practice the team did a great job with the t-car in time and I say thanks to the team.

Q: In fact I think you were quickest through sector three?

R.Schumacher: That is possible but I think after Michael had a small mistake he took it a bit easier through the last sector.

Q: You ran the spare car didn't you?

R.Schumacher: Yes, after my little mistake this morning.

Q: Rubens, you also had a little mistake this morning. How did that affect you?

Rubens BARRICHELLO: Not a lot. The only problem is when you go off so close to qualifying you don't know what to expect. I didn't have the chance to run the new tires just prior to the qualifying so the start of my lap was on a slow one. Then of course it went to a much better result and I'm happy with the third position in a way. I mean last year I was second here and I had a problem at the start, so it looks okay.

Q: Michael some of the forecasts tomorrow are for rain. What are you thoughts bearing in mind the Brazilian Grand Prix on the tire regulation and what happened in Brazil ?

M.Schumacher: We only can hope that we don't see rivers all over the circuit and we said less rain than we saw in Brazil . I think it was very special circumstances in Brazil, under normal circumstances we should not fear any weather condition.

PRESS CONFERENCE

Q: That seemed to be absolutely perfect?

M.Schumacher: A race driver will always say that it's not perfect, so probably in the last sector I left a little bit of time. I knew I was up in time and I was just cautious not to overdo it.

Q: Why did you feel that the car was more suited here?

M.Schumacher: It's a good question: why? I don't know. I just know that Malaysia and Brazil were tough races for us. We knew that in advance. Coming here, from the experience of the test we have done, we felt very comfortable.

Q: Ralf, the problem this morning. What was it and how did you solve it?

R.Schumacher: Well, the problem was simply that I overdid it. I sorted it out, just braked a bit early, that was it, a very easy solution but tough for the team.

Q: Was it a case of taking too much kerb? Were you happy with the handling of the car over the kerbs?

R.Schumacher: We were playing around with the set-up a bit, to finalize and it was slightly on the nervous side and that's why I simply lost it.

Q: Rubens, as we heard, you're happy with third. Looking at the order, do you feel there are any nasty surprises for tomorrow in terms of strategy?

Barrichello: Well, I don't really know. It's not that I'm happy, completely happy, but I feel that it's OK, because after what happened this morning you do give a little bit but I'm comfortable with that from tomorrow.


Ferrari

Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:22.327): "Today, what we refer to as the ?old' car proved what it could do and what we knew it was capable of. However, it will be interesting to see what happens depending on today's fuel loads. My lap was not perfect, as I was cautious and eased off a bit in the final sector. From testing here we knew what to expect and it felt comfortable today. It is great to be back on top, especially here in Imola. Some rain is forecast for tomorrow, but we should not fear the weather conditions as I do not think we will see rivers across the track, like we did in Brazil."

Rubens Barrichello (3rd, 1:22.557): "Qualifying is always difficult when you have a problem so close to the start of the session. As I went off the track during the warm-up I was not able to set up the car as well as possible for qualifying before my run. Taking this factor into consideration I am happy with my third place, especially as I will start from the clean side of the track. It is looking good for tomorrow."

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "This results makes us very happy. Today, the whole team can afford to smile. It's true that an all-red front row would have been better, but having them in line astern, with one car on pole is also a good sight to see. I am also happy for Ralf, who will start alongside Michael and they will thus be together at this difficult time for them. The qualifying session was very close today, which has not been the case so far this year. Of course there is still an element of uncertainty concerning how much fuel all the cars had on board. We will only find out tomorrow afternoon. I am happy for the drivers, the race team and the entire Gestione Sportiva who watched qualifying from a specially reserved grandstand and also for our technical partners, especially Bridgestone and Shell." But we still have to face the toughest part of the weekend, which will be tomorrow afternoon's race."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "We certainly have not had to compromise our race fuel strategy in order to get this pole position. We are confident we have made the right decision concerning the fuel load we ran and with Michael starting at the front of the field we have the opportunity to do well in the race. We were disappointed not to be able to bring the new car here, but today we have shown that the F2002 is still competitive and we hope to give it a good farewell send off tomorrow."

Williams-BMW

Ralf Schumacher (2nd, 1:22.341): "After the first sector, where I was not very fast, I thought my qualifying lap was compromised, but then surprisingly I made it. I must say thanks to the t-car team as they did a very good job getting my car ready which I had to use after the mistake I made this morning. We have been very strong so far here and I hope the weekend continues like this."

Juan Pablo Montoya (4th, 1:22.789): "My qualifying lap was compromised by some understeer which also caused me to go slightly off track at the Acque Minerali, where I definitely lost the time I needed to achieve a better position. The second row is still a very good place to start the race from, even if tomorrow my grid position will be on the dirtier side of the track."

Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "It is a shame to have just missed the pole position. However, we are pleased with the positions we have achieved in the final qualifying. The car has improved a lot and credit should be given to the aero department and the factory for making this possible. It was a good job from Ralf. After the accident that he had this morning he had to take the spare car, which did not have all the latest parts. It was also a good effort by Juan, and we are really looking forward to tomorrow's race now."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "We have been very close to Ferrari in the qualifying. Our team looks to be very strong on the Scuderia's home ground. Two years ago we were celebrating here in Imola the first victory of our partnership, and the circuit seems to suit our new car as well. It was an exciting qualifying session. In the end the World Champion took pole position from us by just a fraction. The FW25 has improved considerably. We are in a good position for the race and hope to show our performance over a race distance as well."

McLaren-Mercedes

Kimi Raikkonen (6th, 1:23.148): "A reasonable grid position. However I made a small mistake at the top chicane which cost me some time so I think I could have been a bit higher up. We have improved the car since yesterday, so we will see what happens in the race tomorrow."

David Coulthard (12th, 1:23.818): "Obviously I'm disappointed. I was going well until Rivazza where I made a mistake, which a quick look at the telemetry showed cost me more than seven tenths of a second. As the first three races have shown this year anything can happen and I have done well from low grid positions before, but its not going to be easy."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "The result of today's qualifying was not a great surprise. However David's mistake cost him several grid positions whilst Kimi too made a small error. It is the race that matters and we will have to see how our strategy works."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "Both drivers didn't achieve their optimum lap. It will be interesting to see how long our competitors can stay out before their first pitstop. The race should see us in better positions, so we are all looking forward to tomorrow."

Renault

Fernando Alonso (8th, 1:23.169): "I am very happy with my 8th place today. The team worked very well and managed to find solutions to yesterday's problems. As a consequence, my car felt much better in qualifying, I had a good lap and I am confident that for tomorrow's race I am in the position to fight and score some points."

Jarno Trulli (16th, 1:24.190): "I had a problem with my car right before the start of qualifying and it's thanks to my mechanics that I didn't miss the session! Although they worked hard and fast, the T-car was set up for Fernando and I just didn't feel comfortable enough on my lap. Tomorrow I will have to fight hard and I think it will be a tough race"

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "We had a difficult qualifying session especially for Jarno. Just before the warm up, he had to switch to the spare car which had Fernando's set up. I think we will have a difficult race but I still think we can have a good race performance and get both cars into the points."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "For the first time this season we have a big gap on the grid between our two cars. I would say that Fernando's position reflects the real potential of our car. Unfortunately the series of problems we encountered on Jarno's car throughout the weekend forced him into the spare car right before qualifying and he was obviously penalized in his lap."

Sauber-Petronas

Nick Heidfeld (11th, 1:23.700): "I had been struggling to find a good balance on my race car all weekend, and just before this afternoon's pre-qualifying warm-up I took the decision to switch to the T-car. We weren't able to make all the necessary changes in time for the warm-up, but were able to make more for qualifying. That meant that for the second day in a row I went into qualifying in a car that was not fully familiar, but I enjoyed the best balance I have had all weekend and I think we are moving in the right direction again."

Heinz-Harald Frentzen (14th, 1:23.932): "It was unfortunate that I lost a lot of time with an engine failure this morning, but my crew did a great job to change the unit in time for me to do an installation lap at the end of the session. There was a knock-on effect this afternoon, but taking that into account I am happy. The balance was good and Nick was able to do further good work this morning which helped to stand us in good stead for qualifying and the race tomorrow."

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "From the three races held so far this year we know that performance on the one hand depends on the combination of driver and car, but strategy is also a key element. In the circumstances Heinz-Harald is about where we had anticipated he would be, while Nick did well after difficulty finding a balance yesterday and this morning and was able to deliver what we had expected of him, too."

Jordan-Ford

Giancarlo Fisichella (17th, 1:24.317): "Obviously this is not a good day. I'm very disappointed and confused because I don't know where other people are with fuel. Hopefully our strategy is good for tomorrow. I hope it's going to be wet."

Ralph Firman (19th, 1:26.357): "It was a promising day before qualifying. But you only get one lap and I made a mistake at the first corner, locking up the front wheel and then had a big flat spot on the tire. From that point on the rest of the lap was very difficult. It should be okay tomorrow."

Gary Anderson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "From my point of view it's difficult to know whether that was good or bad. We've picked a race strategy that we thought was right for them both. We were two seconds behind Michael yesterday on low fuel qualifying and we're two seconds behind him today. With whatever fuel strategies everybody else has, that means we're a lot further back on the grid than we expected. It seems strange to me. We'll really have to wait until tomorrow. Ralph messed his lap up - that's one of the downsides of the new qualifying format."

Jaguar-Cosworth

Mark Webber (5th, 1:23.015): "I was aiming for a top six position and it's great to have managed P5 on the grid for tomorrow. I was watching the lap times of others head of me and given that nearly everyone was lapping in the mid 1m23secs zone, I knew I had to aim for a very low 1m23sec lap. In some ways, the lap was quite conservative. I didn't want to make any silly mistakes or over push the car. Knowing how to control your aggression isn't easy over this one-lap qualifying challenge and there's a very fine line indeed between going too slowly and too fast. Today, we got it just right and we are now very well placed for tomorrow's race. I suspect there will be the odd cynical remark about whether we are running light fuel but as we correctly pointed out in Brazil, just wait and watch the race tomorrow. We are on a health fuel strategy and there is no deception at work here. Jaguar is making very impressive and clear progress ? it is as simple as that. The aim of the game now is points. If we can race reliably tomorrow and combine this with some clever strategy and no driver errors, there is nothing to stop us from taking points, albeit long overdue points given the potential we have demonstrated over the past few races."

Antonio Pizzonia (15th, 1:24.147): "I again lost valuable track time this morning because of an engine problem and that didn't help my preparation going into qualifying. Nonetheless, I am pleased with my lap time given my strategy for tomorrow's race. The danger over this one lap qualifying format is over- pushing the car and making a mistake that could relegate you to the back of the grid. Because of this, it was important to remain steady out there today and ensure we qualified in a position reflective of my strategy for tomorrow. With the risk of rain ever-more present for tomorrow's race, there is still a degree of uncertainly amongst teams as to how to play their strategies and of course, whether we start on wet tires or not."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "Another very pleasing day apart from some hiccups we suffered this morning. Mark's warm-up session this morning was cut short by a hydraulic problem and Antonio unfortunately suffered again with an engine problem. The team, however, did an impressive job of getting both cars prepared for qualifying and Mark's lap was simply sensational. He didn't go out there and aim for a banzai lap and instead, kept his cool and qualified the car exactly where we had aimed for. A very polished performance indeed! Antonio also did a good job today but no doubt it could have been a little better had we not suffered with an engine problem this morning. A shame given the importance of set- up at this circuit but it's all to play for tomorrow. We are again well placed for points tomorrow and unlike Brazil, let's hope there are no surprises! A solid and aggressive performance will again be the order of the day and should we cross the finishing line, there is nothing to prevent us from taking points away. The improvement at Jaguar is taking clear shape and there is nothing we want to do more right now than reward our workforce, sponsors and our parent company with some championship points."

BAR-Honda

Jacques Villeneuve (7th, 1:23.160): "I'm very happy with my lap because it's quicker than we had been expecting. We've been working all weekend towards race set-up so to get a good lap in qualy today is great. There was still a tenth to be had in the last corner but I think the signs are good for the race tomorrow. We've always qualified well here and been worse off in the race but it looks like things will be much better for us this year if it's dry. If it rains then it may be a different story because it will be hard to warm the tires. It's very close at the top and this is one of the most difficult tracks to overtake on so the start will be interesting. It will be tough tomorrow but it looks like we will be there fighting for points so I'm looking forward to it."

Jenson Button (9th, 1:23.381): "We made good progress through free practice this morning and I was much more comfortable with the balance going into qualifying. The first two sectors of my qualifying lap were OK but then I went a bit wide in the high speed chicane up the hill caused and lost a bit of time. I also had a bit too much understeer in the high speed corners. I'm disappointed but I don't think we're looking too bad for tomorrow."

David Richards, Team Principal: "It's very encouraging to see how close we qualified to the front row this year, by comparison with twelve months ago. Jacques' lap was exceptional but then he does excel at this circuit. From our grid positions, with a sensible strategy, I feel very positive about tomorrow."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "We had a fault-free morning and achieved a total of 73 laps, running with Honda's latest step of engine. The performance of the car and the tires here enables us to have a reasonably free hand in terms of strategy and we are reasonably happy with our qualifying positions this afternoon."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "This afternoon wasn't great and we were expecting to qualify higher than seventh and ninth. The engines have been performing well this weekend and we're still in a good position to continue the fight for points tomorrow."

Minardi-Cosworth

Justin Wilson (18th, 1:25.826): "That was not an easy run - the track was very slippery with the spots of rain that fell just before qualifying started. A couple of times I had big slides, but managed to keep the car on the track. The lap could have been better in a couple of places, but that is always the case. Generally, I was quite happy with the way it went, and we'll now see what the race brings us tomorrow."

Jos Verstappen (20th, No Time): "Obviously, I'm not very happy with today's qualifying performance. The situation wasn't helped by the fact we had to do an engine change after the end of practice, and in this afternoon's pre-qualifying warm-up the new engine felt different. I wasn't absolutely sure how it would be in qualifying, but as it turned out, it was fine and the car was performing well up until the point when I had the accident. I just hit the curb too hard, picked up oversteer, slid off the track and hit the wall. I'm fine, but the car was a bit damaged and I apologize to the guys for the extra work that will be required to make the repairs. Tomorrow could be another unpredictable race, depending on the weather, so once again it is going to be important for us to finish in order to capitalize on the misfortunes of others."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "It has been a sharp end to what started as a promising day. The team had an interesting, and busy morning, with a precautionary engine change on Jos's car between the free practice session and qualifying. A slightly slippery track saw Justin have a small ?moment' in qualifying, and sadly, Jos have a far larger one, which resulted in him not completing his lap. I feel for both drivers today, as they were giving 100 per cent, but the times just didn't quite reflect that. We look forward to a better race tomorrow."

Toyota

Olivier Panis (10th, 1:23.460): "I am really quite pleased with my flying lap today and another top ten grid position. It was particularly good considering we did not start in so well yesterday with a lot of handling problems. The team has done a good job and reacted very well to adjust and improve the car. It's the first time this season that I have managed a clean flying lap and I think, in the end, we are looking in reasonable shape for the race."

Cristiano Da Matta (13th, 1:23.838): "After a tricky start to the weekend, I think I got pretty much everything out of the car I could today. The track conditions were a bit slippery, but my lap was quite good. We have been making constant improvements to the car all weekend and the whole team has done a good job. Of course, there is no limit on the work you can do on car set-up; there is always something extra, but from a driving point of view, I think it was a good day and I am pleased."

Keizo Takahashi, General Manager, Car Design and Development: "It was generally a good qualifying for us - and another top ten result. We used the data acquired yesterday to find a good set-up on the TF103s and the team has worked hard to improve the car a lot since free practice yesterday. Both Olivier and Cristiano did a good job and I am very happy with today's result and I am quite hopeful that we can get a top-eight result tomorrow."

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