OCTOBER 11, 2003
JAPANESE GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Rubens's lucky dip
There was a time (and what a time it was) when Japan had so many Formula 1 fans that seven million people wanted to buy tickets for the Japanese Grand Prix and these little bits of paper had more value than plots of land in Klondike once used to fetch. Those were the days when Ayrton Senna was a demi-god and F1 stars had to hide away inside something called "the secret bus" to get from the hotel to the circuit, chased by thousands of squealing Japanese ladies. In those heady days, going to Japan was like landing on the Moon. Everything was more difficult than it is nowadays. These days, Japan's love of Formula 1 has cooled several degrees but this year there was still a lottery... for grid positions.
The decision to embrace single lap qualifying was always one that risked an intervention from those gigglesome weather Gods, who must get perverse enjoyment in messing things up. We had had an averagely dull series of sessions with the usual suspects there or thereabouts. At first Renault had an advantage because the team had been able to gauge the conditions in the two hour "Heathrow" test session but then the other teams had caught up and it looked like turning into a Ralf Schumacher Benefit Concert. Brother Michael was lurking around like a shark eyeing up some paddling school children and Kimi Raikkonen (who sometimes seem young enough to be a paddling school child) messed up his hopes by stuffing his McLaren-Mercedes Benz. This was not the cool and efficient thing to do and down in McLarenville there was a bit of scurrying going on as David Coulthard was removed from his own car and left sitting in the back of the garage like a used clutch while the Kimster rushed off with DC's chassis. The result was that both McLaren drivers went into qualifying with virtually no idea how the cars they were driving were going to handle.
And then the skies darkened, the clouds came swirling in and we went into qualifying with Nicolas Kiesa getting his chance to wow the world with his Minardi. Then came Jos Verstappen, who managed to lop more than two seconds off the time set by his team mate. Then we had Giancarlo Fisichella and Ralph the Fireman and each moved the target lower.
And the Japanese fans perked up a bit as Jenson Button set off at the wheel of his Honda-engined BAR. There was great enjoyment when this emerged in pole position.
Time for an advertising break.
And when we returned there was Justin Wilson doing a good job with his Jaguar but failing to beat Button's best. The Japanese fans bristled again as Cristiano da Matta set out in his Toyota. He lopped more than a second off Button's best and while Olivier Panis did not quite beat his team mate, we found ourselves in a Toyota 1-2 situation.
For a moment of light relief we had Heinz-Harald Frentzen in his Sauber wunderwagon pushing too hard and kicking up the dust and then it was back to Japanese excitement as Takuma Sato (trainee legend and hero) set off in the BAR-Honda that had once had Villeneuve written on the side. Taku was obviously rather excited by all this and ended up overdriving in a very twitchy fashion and ending up in sixth position.
It was time for another advertising break.
Nick Heidfeld has never been one to send the crowds into paroxysms of excitement and he lived up to his reputation of dullness with a dull lap.
"It started to drizzle when I was on my out lap," he said. "I did that as quickly as I could and the rain went away and didn't influence my time."
And then out came Mark Webber. The skies were spitting gobs of rainwater but it was still not enough to hurt the times and Webber went third, behind the Toyotas. And then we waited as Monty wound up his Williams-BMW, tied on his headband, and prepared to go ballistic.
"The balance of my car was not ideal," he opined later. "We made some changes to the set-up after the morning session based on the weather forecast for Sunday."
It was a gamble but it paid off because JPM crossed the line with his name at the of the timesheet, scarping ahead of da Matta by 0.007s.
And then out went Rubens Barrichello. The car had been behaving badly in the morning and so the Ferrari boffins decided to return to the settings of Friday and Rubens was told to wing it. And wing it he did.
"It was already spitting with rain but I attacked the Esses hard and I was all right on the fast section of the circuit but then I braked a little bit conservatively for the chicane because by then there was quite a lot of water on my visor. It was the best lap that I have ever done in Suzuka."
Pole position has tumbled by another seven-tenths. And then out at the back of the circuit, the rains began to get more serious. Fernando Alonso was a second and a half slower than Rubens.
"By the end of the lap," he said, "there was not much grip."
And then we had an advertising break and the extra couple of minutes made all the different. The track was now greasier than a member of the diplomatic service and Kimi, fighting the car as well as the track could manage only seventh quickest. Everyone nodded sagely. That was the end of that. No World Championship showdown...
David Coulthard went next and he too was juggling with the car. In the warm-up the car had been pretty horrid but as the weather developed the McLaren men in the headsets decided that it was best not to twiddle with settings and told DC just to go out and drive the wheels off the beast. Halfway around his lap, something fell off the car (an inspection hatch) but it made little difference. He was a tenth faster than Kimi. Seventh on the grid.
And then, the drums rolled, the fans sat up straight in their seats and Michael Schumacher sent his red torpedo out to blow away the opposition. The conditions were getting worse and Michael was fighting a losing battle and when he had a big slide in 130R we knew that his hopes and dreams were ruined. When he crossed the line in 14th place, there were gasps of disbelief.
There were two drivers to go and not much to play for. Ralf Schumacher's lap looked horrible and when he spun at the chicane, unable to hold on to the Williams any more, we knew that it was all over. The track conditions had ruined the day. Ralf headed straight into pitlane to save some fuel on the race day.
He was 14th on the grid with two drivers still to go.
"I have been strong in all the sessions up to now," he said. "The rain destroyed everything.
Jarno Trulli did not even try for a fast lap and went straight into the pitlane at the end of his warming up lap. He saved two laps of fuel but the fans were not impressed as they were sitting in the rain watching no-one coming by. In fact they whistled rather a lot.
The grid was formed and fascinating but the session had not been a classic.
Rubens Barrichello did not care.
"I am now in a position in which the best thing I can do for the team and for Michael is to win the race. If I do that I can help Michael to win the Drivers' title and help the team win the Constructors'."
Montoya was second and so we had these two out front fighting for the Constructors' title. And then we had the two Toyotas. The Cologne team thus starts the race as the favorite to win the much-disputed fifth place in the Constructors' title.
Alonso was next and then Webber, Coulthard and Raikkonen with Button and Wilson rounding off the top 10. There were then two Saubers and Sato before Michael Schuamcher's Ferrari finally hove into view. Two Jordans and two Minardis rounded off rows eight and nine leaving the back row to Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli.
POST-QUALIFING PRESS CONFERENCE - 11 OCTOBER 2003
1. Rubens BARRICHELLO (FERRARI), 1m31.713s
2. Juan Pablo MONTOYA (WILLIAMS), 1m32.412s (+ 0.699s)
3. Cristiano DA MATTA ( TOYOTA ), 1m32.419s (+ 0.706s)
Q: Rubens, it was an interesting and dramatic qualifying session. Obviously the conditions were great for you but talk about your lap first.
Rubens BARRICHELLO: Well, in a way I think the situation is a little bit masked because it rained afterwards. But I think it was a great lap, not that I want to say much about it but it was definitely my best lap at Suzuka in a qualifying session. The car improved a hell of a lot since the morning. This time I was the one who had to follow Michael a little bit because my car was not doing very well. We started very similar on Friday and we went apart but I had to go back and the car was really good on a new tire so I am really happy. I was thinking it was a good lap. I don't know for pole or not but it would have been quite close and then it started raining.
Q: It is a critical race for Ferrari, not only for your team-mate Michael with the drivers' championship but also with the constructors' championship.
Barrichello: Yeah, I mean, if I can win the race then probably for Michael it is done and for the constructors' we have myself and Juan Pablo on the front row and Michael a little bit behind with Ralf, so it's going to be quite difficult.
Q: Juan Pablo, your weekend didn't begin very well yesterday, you had a gearbox problem and lost a lot of time, but you made a great recovery today.
Juan Pablo MONTOYA: Yeah, I think I was a bit disappointed with the lap because I had too much understeer but this morning we showed the car has great potential, it has been very consistent even in the long runs so I think I am pretty pleased about it and I think we should be very strong.
Q: What are your thoughts about the battle for the constructors' championship. Has it changed the way you race, the way you drive?
Montoya: Well, it's going to be pretty hard now. Ralf is going to start from the back of the grid and Michael is like P14 so they are going to be quite close together. It is up to me to get in front of Rubens, hopefully without touching this time - no guarantees on that! - and see what happens. We are going to do the best we can and if it meant to be our way it is going to be our way, if it's not, it's not.
Q: Cristiano, this is the second race in a row we have had a Toyota in the first three in qualifying and we have an all-South American top three. This is the first time you have been to Suzuka and it was a great performance.
Cristiano DA MATTA: Thank you. Of course, I am not going to believe that is the true spot where I should be starting on the grid but I believe that maybe we had a top eight if it wasn't raining. Anyway it is a big improvement from the team from yesterday to today. Yesterday we started quite a long way off the pace and this morning we made a couple of changes on the car. The engineers worked quite well overnight, the car was quite a bit better today. Of course, I will take the third place, I am not going to complain about that. I am just happy for me, especially, and also for the team.
Q: Olivier Panis is right behind you on the grid as well, so can you talk about the presence of Toyota here at the Japanese Grand Prix?
Da Matta: Well, I think for Toyota it couldn't be any better than starting third and fourth. Combined it is easily our best result for qualifying. It doesn't matter the way it came but it is still our best result in qualifying and it is going to make all the Toyota people here in Japan very happy and of course the team that has been working hard all year are happy too.
Q: I would say that it was typical weather conditions for you but that is not true, you have had perfectly dry pole positions. But what were the weather conditions when you were out like that because you were virtually the last one on a dry track.
Barrichello: It was starting to spit. It was in the last sector. The high speed was okay, I braked into the chicane already a little bit in a conservative manner because I could see my visor really getting wet and as soon as I finished the lap I could see that the rain started to be heavier. I must admit that I thought the McLarens run, not just for DC but for Kimi, were quite good because it was already starting to be getting wet, not wet tires but misty, and it is difficult to drive in those conditions. For Michael it was wet so there was no way.
Q: You had a problem on new tires this morning, presumably that was all sorted out by the alterations you made for the warm-up?
Barrichello: Yeah, my car was running very well. I could fight the car all through the esses and I didn't mind if it was spitting or not, I had to push and it was really good. I am really pleased with the lap that came in because the car was changed and it was better.
Q: So what conditions would you prefer for tomorrow?
Barrichello: I don't mind. It is clear vision ahead. I hope to have a good start and that is all. People are trying to say that now it is on my back, since yesterday, because now I win the race and everything is sorted. But it is not like that. I just take the pressure and I just want to have fun and enjoy the race. I always find the race in Suzuka quite tough in terms of set-up because the car could go either way in the middle of the race, so I hope to have a really good run. I find that the car was good on old tires but not as good as on new so on new tires it is good as well now so hopefully tomorrow it is okay. If it is wet it is wet for everybody so it's okay as well.
Q: It is interesting the two of you battling for the constructors' championship, the title contenders further back for the drivers' championship.
Barrichello: Now it is my chance to put him off so I will wait for him on the first corner and then I crash! (Laughter)
Q: So what has Juan Pablo got to say to that?
Barrichello: It was only a joke anyway!
Montoya: I don't know. I think it is going to be a pretty good race. My job at the moment is to try to win the race, try to beat Ferrari for the constructors' and hopefully it doesn't finish the same way as the last race. I am hoping it is dry to be honest. In the wet it is pretty hopeless.
Q: There is a new layout to the circuit. Is it going to make overtaking easier? What do you think of it?
Montoya: I think 130R before was easier than now. This is a bit wider but there is a couple of bumps thrown in so it makes life quite interesting.
Q: And what about the chicane? Are you braking as hard for the chicane as you were before?
Montoya: Yeah, probably the entrance is a bit wider but you have got to have the balls to follow somebody through 130R.
Q: So it is going to be quite difficult for your respective team-mates from the back of the grid then?
Montoya: No, probably from further down on the grid they should pass quite easily, especially Ralf because we have got a big power advantage on most of the people so I think that will make his life a bit easier. When he gets to P7 or P8 it is probably going to become harder.
Q: A bit of a moment for you this morning, going off on Alonso's oil.
Montoya: Oh yeah, pretty interesting. No flags or anything. I turned in and it was 'ooh, oversteer. What's wrong? Brake. I thought the wheel came off or something. It was pretty interesting.
Q: And then there was the Jaguar on your inside.
Montoya: Yeah, I looked in the mirror and there was the Jaguar following me in the gravel and it was like 'oh, there we go, good thing I wasn't the only one!'
Q: Cristiano, once again, Toyota third on the grid for the second race running, and very important for Toyota but also yourself. You must be very pleased with the way things have turned out this season.
Da Matta: Yeah, I'm happy with the year overall. I always wish I had a bit more consistency. There were some races where we were OK, some other races where we were just nowhere, so definitely our main target for next season is that we have to try to get ourselves in a position where we are... we were OK this year, we have to try to be OK in every race. That's the aim for next season. As for today, I am very happy. I'm not dreaming that I really had the car to be here in third place but I really believe that I had a car to be in the top eight or maybe a little bit better. It's impossible to know but we made a good improvement from yesterday to today anyway, and that's what matters. Hopefully for tomorrow it stays dry and we can have a clean race.
Q: After this morning's session, you said that things had to be clarified before qualifying; had you sorted that out?
Da Matta: Yeah, there's a couple of areas that we still don't quite understand very well about our car. When we're running very well, when we're not running very well, we cannot understand exactly the reasons why. We seem to be getting a little bit better on that but not with complete understanding of it. I think today's result is very important in a way that is going to give the whole team a big boost of knowing the car a bit better, knowing what we have to do for next year and trying to make it better for next year.
QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: Juan and Rubens, the new qualifying system worked out very well for you today but not for your teammates. Give us your thoughts on this, maybe that the championship is decided by a quick rain shower here and the new qualifying system is good, bad or just the way it is?
Montoya: Just the way it is. Some races... I think Magny-Cours on Friday was the other way around. What can you do? Go with it.
Barrichello: I agree, totally, because there is a system and the system works the same for everyone. Sometimes it might be in your favor, sometimes it won't be. You might have two negative sides in one year and two positive in the other one. It's just a question of being there at the right time. I'm not one of the guys that if the rain affects me, I go and start to say 'oh, shit, it happens to me and this and that.' The next day it might be for you, so you just get on with it.
Q: Rubens, you set a very impressive time. It has been said that you have a very aggressive strategy for this race...
Barrichello: No really, we've been running the car the same pretty much all weekend and we're quite happy with everything. I wasn't happy with the set-up this morning, and I was running at a good pace on old tires but not as good on new tires. Everything was spot on in qualifying. I really did push a lot, I was very aggressive into the lap, that's all I can say. You're going to see the strategy tomorrow - who's going to stop when - †but I'm pretty happy with mine.
Rubens Barrichello (1st, 1:31.713): "This was definitely my best ever qualifying lap at Suzuka. This morning, although the car was good on used tires, I was not happy with it on new tires. But we made changes which improved it a lot in time for the warm-up. I drove an aggressive lap even though it was already spitting and I attacked the Esses section hard. I was alright on the fast section, but I braked a bit conservatively into the chicane, as by then there was a lot of water on my visor. I do not feel under any pressure and tomorrow I just plan to enjoy the race. If I win, then for Michael the job is done and with me and Juan Pablo on the front and Michael and Ralf further back it should be interesting for the Constructors."
Michael Schumacher (14th, 1:34.302): "It was an interesting session, as the varying weather meant that track conditions were inconsistent. I am very happy that Rubens is on pole, as it is good for him, for the team, for the Constructors' championship and even for my situation in the Drivers. The session could have been much worse for me and I think that Kimi was also affected a bit by the rain. Tomorrow the forecast is for mixed conditions, which could suit us."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "The changing weather conditions turned qualifying into a lottery. This has resulted in a rather unusual grid, although with Rubens we have a Ferrari on pole position.He drove a great lap just before the rain intensified. Michael was the third from last driver to go for his timed lap and the last man to complete his run. This explains his fourteenth position. The two championships will be decided in tomorrow's race. We know what we have to do to defend our positions. It is obvious that, especially because of predictions for more uncertain weather, much will depend on making the right choices at the right time. The changes to the regulations introduced at the start of the year were designed to add an element of unpredictability to qualifying and here in Suzuka that is exactly what has happened."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "We are very happy with Rubens' performance as he drove a really good lap.Michael's position is all down to the rain which was timed badly for his run, even if he was not as badly affected as the last two runners. His time was quite impressive considering how damp it was. They say it should be wet again tomorrow, but we will need to check as the forecast is changing a lot. We are in a good position for tomorrow, as Rubens is on pole and Kimi is not so far ahead of Michael, so I think we have a good chance for both championships. The Bridgestone tires looked very good in these difficult conditions."
Juan Pablo Montoya (2nd, 1:32.412): "I am obviously pleased with my qualifying position, especially because the balance of my car wasn't ideal throughout my lap, due to the fact that we made some changes to the set-up since this morning's Free Practice sessions, in accordance with our weather forecast for tomorrow. However, I am sure we've got a very consistent and strong car for the race. It's a shame that Ralf will have to start from the back, as we really need to score as many points as possible for the Constructors' title."
Ralf Schumacher (19th, No Time): "Everything was going so perfectly this weekend, even after this morning's session. I just had bad luck with the weather conditions in qualifying. I tried to make the best out of it, but it just did not work out. It was actually useless, I could have come in straight away. Then I eventually spun. I will have to start from the back of the grid and it will be very difficult to overtake and it is going to be a tough race. We need points for the Constructors' Championship and I'll fight hard, but that is the way it is today."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "It was obviously a mixed qualifying for us - good for Juan but bad for Ralf, which was due to the weather. However, we believe that we should have a good race performance tomorrow to help our challenge for the Constructors' Championship. Juan is well placed to start with and Ralf is keen to show what he can do by cutting through the field."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "First the Indianapolis race and now also the result of the final qualifying session of the season has been decided by the weather conditions. Juan Pablo managed to complete his lap just before the rain started to fall significantly and secured second place. For the last three drivers, the rain's influence was evident - Michael Schumacher has to cope with 14th place, Ralf spun and Jarno Trulli didn't even do his qualifying lap. For Sunday changeable weather conditions are predicted too. Therefore it is impossible to predict the outcome of the race or the Constructors' Championship. At least, this weekend, once again, all of our engines have run trouble free so far."
David Coulthard (7th, 1:33.137): "A fairly straightforward lap, but the circuit was getting a little bit wet so I had to take that into consideration. As I only had limited running this morning the weather meant that I was probably at less of a disadvantage than normally would be the case. In the last sector a piece of deflector flew off the car, but it didn't affect my time and I look forward to tomorrow."
Kimi Raikkonen (8th, 1:33.272): "The circuit was becoming wet when we went out so our time was the best we could do in those conditions. We will see what happens tomorrow when it becomes clear what strategy everybody is on and more importantly what the weather will do. We will do everything we can to make a good race and at least Michael is not on pole!"
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "An interesting outcome reflecting no more than the onset of rain which largely affected the last five cars. Hopefully our race strategy will contribute to a good result."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "It's a pity when the weather decides the order of the starting grid. However we expect this to be the basis for an exciting race. Yesterday's top five suffered an increasing handicap towards the end of today's session."
Fernando Alonso (5th, 1:33.044): "I was a little bit unfortunate today. It started raining just as I went out, and even though the rain wasn't particularly heavy, it cost me a few tenths. I was pushing just as hard as in dry conditions, but the time wasn't there at the end of the lap: there wasn't as much grip, especially under acceleration. Even so, the car is well balanced and I am in a good position for tomorrow."
Jarno Trulli (20th, No Time): "What can you say about that? Every race, I am fighting for my first pole position, and this weekend I was on course to get it. We worked hard this morning, and I was very competitive, even if the times didn't necessarily make it look that way. Then, the rain came and destroyed my chances. Tomorrow's race will be tough, all the more so because it is very difficult to overtake here."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "After such a promising start to the weekend, today's qualifying result is bitterly disappointing. However, in spite of a lap affected by the onset of rain, Fernando's fifth place, while not reflecting the full potential of the car, still gives us a real chance for tomorrow. What can I say for Jarno? He must be the unluckiest man in Formula 1: in the space of twenty-four hours, he has gone from being the fastest man out there to last on the grid, through no fault of his own. We decided it was not even worth doing the timed lap, and called him in to save fuel for the race."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "Fernando's fifth place is an encouraging position from which to start tomorrow, and at least shows that the rain did not completely ruin our afternoon. However, given the times set by the people on the front row, we can only regret that circumstances prevented Jarno from doing a timed lap: he had the potential to take pole. Fate denied him a real opportunity to shine this afternoon."
Nick Heidfeld (11th, 1:33.632): "I believe my lap today was pretty good, but I think in general it is quite difficult to say who was really quick or not and we will see quite a few different strategies tomorrow. When I left the pits it started to drizzle and therefore I ran my out lap a little faster than planned, but ultimately the light rain didn't affect my flying lap. I am also happy with the car, it felt good in qualifying and during long runs this morning."
Heinz-Harald Frentzen (12th, 1:33.896): "Up to Degner Two I had a good run, but I tried just a bit too hard - a tiny bit - and got stuck on the kerbs there and lost traction and acceleration which obviously hurt my starting position. However, my car was well balanced and good to drive so I'm hopeful for the race."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Our strategies were good, but the implementation of them didn't quite work out. Nick's lap was okay. Heinz-Harald's run was good, too, in the first and third sectors. In the middle one he unfortunately lost nine tenths of a second in Degner Two and consequently the fifth starting position, which would have been very important for us considering the grid positions of our principal opposition, Webber and Button."
Ralph Firman (15th, 1:34.771): "That was possibly one of my best laps all year. This is the only circuit where I feel I am on equal terms with Giancarlo and everyone else because I know it well. We also know the car really well by the end of the season and we found a good balance today. I'm really happy with it and it's worked well although obviously we'd like to be quicker. Hopefully if it rains tomorrow it could be a good weekend for us. I like this circuit because it's challenging and you have to have confidence at every corner to be fast. It's great to be racing here again."
Giancarlo Fisichella (16th, 1:34.912): "I'm a bit frustrated with how it's gone so far especially as it's my last weekend with Jordan. We are not quick enough for some reason - I don't know why, but it isn't good. Anyway, I hear that tomorrow may be wet and I'm hoping it will be, as that would give us a better chance."
Gary Anderson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "I think the balance of the cars is reasonably good today and the performance just reflects the grip level that we've got. I think we've done the right thing for the race and after today's conditions with rain coming mid afternoon, I hope it will do the same tomorrow and that we'll be able to pull something out of what unfolds. To be honest, we could not have done more than we did. Being directly behind Michael, at least we can expect a bit of TV coverage on the grid and at the start tomorrow!"
Mark Webber (6th, 1:33.106): "I'll take that! A pleasing lap but one that got tricky towards the end with the showers falling around the chicane and I had to take it a little careful. I could have got a sniff more out of the car towards the end but it wasn't worth the risk. I don't think I could have made a serious challenge towards Olivier Panis and while we were a little lucky with the weather, it is about time too. P6 is a good place to contest tomorrow's race from and we are well prepared. It's obviously going to be interesting to see what strategies everyone is on for tomorrow's race and while we are not interested in the battle between the front runners, the tactics employed by BAR-Honda, Sauber and Toyota will be critical to the outcome of our race."
Justin Wilson (10th, 1:33.558): "A top ten position is pleasing although I could have done better. My sector two and three times were good but I ran a little wide through turn one which cost me some time. The balance and the handling of the car are quite good and I have been chipping away all weekend to the extent that my times have been getting better. The weather conditions tomorrow will no doubt play a big part in the race but the team's preparation over the past few days has been very impressive. Between us, Mark and I have done over 1300kms of trouble- free running in the Jaguar R4 and as long as we remain reliable tomorrow, we should be in with a shout."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "We have been on the receiving end of bad weather many times this season and for once it is nice to have been on the right side of the elements but our preparation going into this race has also been very thorough. We have generated over 1300kms of mileage in the past two days without a single reliability issue and the car's balance around this demanding circuit is good in both single lap and endurance trim. As always, we have put our focus this weekend firmly into the race and having two cars start from the top ten is very good news for us. Both drivers did an excellent job in conditions that were far from perfect and apart from a tiny mistake Justin made going into turn one, I don't think we could have asked for much more. With everything to play for and heavy showers forecast for tomorrow, bringing the cars home will be the order of the day and while points are never easy, we are well placed to make a serious challenge tomorrow. A good day and one we hope to maximize upon tomorrow."
Jenson Button (9th, 1:33.474): "I was a little bit on the edge there and overcooked it in a couple of places, particularly in the second Degna where I went right over the kerb, so I lost a bit of time there. We needed to pull out a fast one though and get the best out of the car, and that's what we've got to do to get the grid position. My set-up wasn't ideal going into warm-up and we had to work quite hard during that session to make it better. It's still not ideal but I'm quite pleased with the lap overall and it was a lot of fun. The most important thing now is to give it everything we've got in the race in order to win back fifth in the Championship."
Takuma Sato (13th, 1:33.924): "That was a little difficult for me. The important thing was to stay close to Jenson and I'm quite pleased with where I ended up. I did make a couple of mistakes which cost me a couple of tenths. Most importantly I didn't make a big mistake so I'm quite confident for the race. Contrary to what many people think, I'm not as familiar with Suzuka as most of the current drivers. Before 2002, the last time I raced here was in 1998, and prior to that I only ever raced here in school series. With the latest changes to the circuit, I'm still learning as much as the other drivers - more so, of course, because I haven't raced for a year. I have a huge amount of support here though and I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."
David Richards, Team Principal: "Well the last race is proving to be as dramatic as the whole 2003 season! Rain has once again upset the form book, but I am obviously pleased that this has helped our cause. It is difficult to know what fuel loads our direct competitors were running, but our grid positions have put us in touch with where we need to be. Jenson made a couple of small errors and probably had the speed to be a couple of places higher. Taku did a satisfactory job, but will no doubt benefit from more experience with this style of qualifying as we get into next season. As for tomorrow, I imagine that a great deal is going to depend on the weather, and with a forecast of rain it may well play into our hands."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "We were fortunate to avoid the penalty of the variable weather in qualifying today, however neither driver got an ideal lap. Jenson ran wide at the second Degna and lost some time through the chicane, as did Takuma, whose lap was also a little ragged. This morning we lost a bit of time with a hydraulics problem on Takuma's car, but were able to complete the majority of our set-up work with Jenson working hard to catch up after losing most of yesterday's running.. We are happy with our set-up and strategy for tomorrow's race and our clear objective is to regain fifth position in the constructors' championship."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Another good effort from Jenson and Taku. The conditions obviously played a part in qualifying today and may well affect the race tomorrow. We have to take every opportunity we get to secure fifth place in the constructors' championship in front of our home crowd."
Jos Verstappen (17th, 1:34.975): "That was a reasonably good qualifying lap. I put a wheel just slightly in the dirt on one of the fast corners, but otherwise, there were no problems. Hopefully, the weather will play into our hands tomorrow, as some rain would definitely help. I lost set-up time in the second practice session this morning with a hydraulic system failure on my car, but it shouldn't affect us too badly, as the car felt good on its race fuel load."
Nicolas Kiesa (18th, 1:37.226): "We made some useful progress this morning. I managed a long run with a heavy fuel load to check tire degradation and overall car balance, and I was pleased to find that the balance was good and I was able to turn really consistent lap times. We also attempted a qualifying simulation right at the end of the morning session, but one of the Renaults went off, dragging dirt onto the track, and spoiled any chance of doing a meaningful lap. I feel I did a good lap on my qualifying run, bearing in mind the fuel I had on board and my lack of experience of this circuit. I made a mistake at turn eight, when I selected too low a gear, but fortunately, it didn't cost me too much time. The car was handling well, and with the package we've got, I think it looks good for tomorrow."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "A sprinkle of drizzle just before the start of the final qualifying session gave great encouragement to European Minardi that it might be rewarded with a rain-affected session, but it was not to be until the last few cars. As usual, both our drivers gave 100 per cent this afternoon, and as for tomorrow's race, which is critically important for the World Championship in so many ways, with three teams fighting for title honors and five others battling for the coveted fifth place in the Championship, European Minardi is expecting an interesting contest and believes a points finish is a definite possibility."
Cristiano Da Matta (3rd, 1:32.419): "I am obviously very pleased with our qualifying performance here in Suzuka today. 3rd and 4th is really fantastic. I am not just pleased with the lap time, but also with the hard work that the whole team put in overnight to improve the car. We struggled quite a bit in the sessions yesterday, so I was happy that the car felt so much more connected this morning. Okay, we had help from the rain this afternoon, but even so, I believe we would still have been in the top 8. I am confident that we can be quite strong in our home race tomorrow. I am really looking forward to doing all we can to give the Toyota fans a good result."
Olivier Panis (4th, 1:32.862): "This is a very positive result for the whole team and we have repeated our strong qualifying performance from the last race. Having both cars on the second row of the grid tomorrow at Toyota's home grand prix is exceptional, even if we finally had a bit of help from the weather. Despite this result, there is still some work to be done on my car. We still have to find out why I am missing some top speed down the straight in comparison to Cristiano's car. I think I will use the wet weather this afternoon to stay in and work on it with the team."
Keizo Takahashi, General Manager, Car Design and Development: "At our second home grand prix, I am extremely happy that we did the best ever qualifying result with both Cristiano and Olivier on the second row of the grid. Cristiano did a fantastic job throughout the day, especially considering this is his first time at Suzuka, which is one of the toughest tracks on the calendar. As for Olivier, the car was not as well balanced as it could have been, but he drove a faultless lap and gave his absolute best. We want to keep this momentum up and achieve some good points in tomorrow's race."
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