MARCH 20, 2004
MALAYSIAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Michael by a mile, but Webber ain't so green
Michael Schumacher made everyone else look rather silly in qualifying in Malaysia, taking pole position in his Ferrari by a massive margin of 0.641s. The time made it very clear that Michael's dominant performance in Australia was not a flash in the pan. The Bridgestone tyres work in hot temperatures as well as in the cool conditions and there is going to have to be a big shake-up if someone else is going to catch him this year as he streaks off towards a seventh World Championship.
"It's really nothing to do with Ferrari winning," Bernie Ecclestone said in an interview over the weekend. "It's about the others losing. You can't handicap Ferrari and I don't think any other competitive team would want that to happen. If you asked Ron Dennis or Frank Williams if they'd like that, they'd say no.
"The other teams have had a wake-up call, that's all. I think they really thought that Ferrari wouldn't perform like that for various reasons, mostly because the Bridgestone tyres weren't getting the job done in the winter, but we were all wrong. Ferrari did get the job done as usual."
On Friday no-one was quite sure what to make of Kimi Raikkonen setting the fastest time in his McLaren given the team's poor performance in Australia. Ron Dennis is always saying that there are no miracles in motor racing and yet here was Kimi back in the hunt with Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber in hot pursuit. Michael was seven-tenths off the pace. Or was he? No-one really knew. The spies in the Ferrari camp reported (smugly) that the team was running with full fuel loads and in the background was the dark thought that Ferrari was still on top.
Talk to the engineers in the paddock and they will tell you the story, based on days of data analysis since the Australian Grand Prix.
"It is not just about tyres," said Geoff Willis of BAR. "Our data shows that Ferrari has made a huge step forward in aerodynamic efficiency. The tyres were worth a bit in Melbourne but the car is simple better than the others."
When your car is being driven by Michael Schumacher it obviously helps and Michael had begun Friday doing his usual psychological warfare, setting the pace in the first Friday session with a massive margin on nearly a second over Rubens Barrichello. Whatever it takes to win.
No-one took the McLaren performance very seriously and so it was Webber's speed which was a bit of a talking point.
"I think we are punching above our weight really," team boss Tony Purnell admitted, although of course it is virtually impossible to know until after the race which cars are fast and which are running with low fuel loads.
On Saturday morning Michael's speed emerged again as he lapped seven-tenths faster than Fernando Alonso's Renault. Others were on the move to. The pace of some of the cars caught even Webber by surprise.
"Everyone was going gangbusters," he said. "We ended up 10th and so when we went into qualifying I thought that a top eight position would be pretty good. The target had been sixth but it didn't look very likely."
It would take us a long time to find out. One can try to be nice about the qualifying sessions but they seemed to grind on forever on Saturday afternoon.
"It takes a lot of talent to make this sport look slow," muttered one visiting news agency journalist. "But they've done it."
Everyone says that things must change but they haven't and nor will they. The FIA's latest suggestion is that the two sessions be split a bit more and only the second be televised. it won't make any difference. In Malaysia the first session ended after 59 minutes. The entire qualifying process took over two hours and as a TV spectacle it failed horribly. it is clear that some in the sport want to make a mockery of qualifying so that they can pressure for two-day race meetings and thus more races but that is not the solution (except if you want to make more money). The best thing for the sport would be some kind of hybrid idea with general qualifying to establish a top 10 and then a single car run-off for pole. That would do it.
Michael Schumacher's final qualifying run - when eventually it came - was a shatteering blow for the rest of the field even if we had seen it coming from afar. Nearly seven-tenths of a second is a huge mount of time in modern F1. There was no last-minute frenzy because it was very quickly clear that neither Renault was even close. Jarno Trulli made an armload of mistakes on his run and ended up eighth. The team reckoned that if he had done the job properly he would have imporved by nine-tenths which would have put him second, three-tenths behind Michael. But that was irrelevant because he didn't. Fernando Alonso was a little better but in the middle of the lap he was behind Mark Webber's best and he was not going to get any better than that. In trying to do so he disobeyed the laws of physics and the car spun. Alonso would start down at the back with the other miscreant of the session Takuma Sato, who had spun out earlier. Taking risks in qualifying in F1 these days is a dangerous business. One slip and your weekend is ruined.
And so the session ended with a whimper...
Hopefully now the team bosses and whoever else is involved in the ludicrous process of decision-making will get together and figure out something better than this.
At the moment watching Formula 1 qualifying is a bit like going to a familiar library full of beautiful leather-bound books. It looks good, it smells great and you know that inside the books there is much to fascinate but when you are standing there for two hours, just looking at the shelves, it is not all that exciting.
The exciting bit came in the run-up to Schumacher's final after Juan Pablo Montoya set a mark which is team mate and enemy Ralf Schumacher failed to beat. Jenson Button then split the two Williams-BMWs. David Coulthard disappointed as we thought would be the case when McLaren stopped playing at PR. He was six-tenths down on pole. Rubens Barrichello was next to run and in the middle part of the lap he showed the Ferrari class and pulled out three-tenths on Montoya.
Mark Webber was next to go and we did not expect much. It would be nice to see him do well but in the first sector he was a tenth down on Rubens. It was only when he got to the end of the second sector that the Media Centre perked up. Hang on, Webber had matched Barrichello. The final sector was glorious. Webber was absolutely on it and as he swept across the line and his name appeared at the top of the timesheet there was a spontaneous burst of applause from the weary pressmen. He was fastest by the smallest of margins but there he was on pole for a moment or two.
There was naturally much rejoicing down in the Jaguar Racing garage and the joy made it obvious that the team was not playing games with fuel.
"After the first sector time came up I thought 'Great, we will be fifth or sixth'," said Purnell. "It was not a perfect lap but I think the last sector was as near to perfect as you get. He did a fabulous job but I am most pleased with the pace of the car over a longer run in the morning. Last year that was our weakness but this year we worked a lot on that.
After Webber came Schumacher and the game was over but Webber stayed second with Barrichello third and Montoya fourth.
"We have shown so far this weekend that our poential has definitely improved," sent Montoya. "But the question is how our competitors are going to behave tomorrow. Racewise I believe we are looking fine."
Ralf said he had made a mistake in the third sector and that cost him places to Kimi Raikkonen and Button.
Jenson was a bit disappointed.
"I had two really good sectors," he explained, "but then I lost quite a bit in the final sector because I had too much oversteer. We are still not quite there."
He was better off than Sato.
"The laws of physics are the laws of physics," said Geoff Willis. "And there is no amount of driver talent that can change that reality."
There was a positive result for Cristiano da Matta of Toyota but the car is still a long way off the pace while the two Sauber drivers were right behind him, split by the smallest of margins (but with Massa ahead of Fisichella again). Then came Christian Klien, which was a good effort for the young Austrian. Olivier Panis was 14th complaining of oveersteer while Nick Heidfeld was clear of the usual Jordan-Minardi jumble. Poor Giorgio Pantano was not having a good time. His car, in which he had little confidence, had a gearbox problem before the first qualifying session. He had to switch to the spare and thus was dropped to the back of the grid.
Later that evening Renault announced that it would be changing the engine in Alonso's car - but there was not much that it would get Fernando very far up the order.
Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:33.074): "I have to say it was a mind-blowing lap, really perfect and spot-on. We were not quite there on Friday, but the whole team worked very well to get the programme back on track. The main reason I picked up so much time between the two runs was that the track improved a lot with much more grip. I tried to be careful in the final sector where it is easy to make mistakes in the last two corners. Tomorrow, the car will not be affected much by the heat, but with the high temperatures the tyre grip goes down. Inside the cockpit, it will be very hard work for us tomorrow and even though we expect that here, it seems to get harder every year as the cars get quicker."
Rubens Barrichello (3rd, 1:33.756): "I am not worried about the time difference to Michael. Firstly, I made a small mistake in the last corner and then I made some different choices to my team-mate. So, although I was not entirely happy with my car in terms of qualifying, I have concentrated very hard on the race and am very happy with my set-up for tomorrow, when I hope everything will come my way. In this heat, it will be a very difficult race."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "Having two Bridgestone-shod Ferraris in first and third places on the grid is certainly an encouraging sign for tomorrow's race. However, at the risk of repeating myself, without knowing what fuel loads and strategies our rivals have opted for, we cannot draw any definite conclusion as to the pecking order amongst the teams. In any case, today's performance, in very high temperatures, shows that the work we have done this winter in conjunction with Bridgestone is bearing fruit. The start, reliability, strategy, the fitness of the drivers: these will be the key elements in a very long and difficult race."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Michael did a perfect lap. Our engineers did a fine job in defining the set-up, to make the car very well balanced. Given how hard we worked after yesterday's practice in terms of analysing the data and deciding which way to go, I think this was a well deserved result. I did not expect to have such a big advantage over our competitors, keeping in mind that we don't know what fuel loads they are running. So it is difficult to predict what will happen in the race. Tyres will be crucial."
Juan Pablo Montoya (4th, 1:34.054): "The time I achieved in the second qualifying is a bit more representative of where we truly stand, even if I made a small mistake in the last sector. I felt I had more rhythm, anyway. However, we have shown so far this weekend that our potential has definitely improved from Australia but the question is how our competitors are going to behave tomorrow. Race wise I believe we are looking fine, we have done good long runs and the car seems to be very consistent."
Ralf Schumacher (7th, 1:34.235): "Certainly we were hoping to be more on the front here, even if we have definitely improved from the first qualifying session. We drove our first session in a more conservative way than other people and could then improve our time in the second. All in all my qualifying lap wasn't too bad, but I lost some time in the third sector, due to a small mistake. That aside i think we will have a good race, even if Ferrari is going to be strong again."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "It was a disappointing qualifying because our pace was strong in the other sessions, but it is qualifying that matters. We have a good race set up on both cars, and look forward to a strong race tomorrow. With the temperatures predicted for tomorrow, the race will also be challenging for everybody's reliability. It will be difficult to challenge the pace of Ferrari."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: Our drivers improved from first to second qualifying session as we expected. We will see tomorrow what everyone's qualifying time really means, after the first pit- stops. Our engines have passed with no problems the test of qualifying in such hot conditions. The laptime of Michael Schumacher proves that Ferrari is again favourite, even in the heat. The gap from his team-mate Barrichello could mean they are on a different strategy. The rest of the field is packed together, but the performance of Mark Webber is definitely to praise."
Kimi Raikkonen (5th, 1:34.164): "My qualifying was reasonably OK. We have improved the car continuously during the weekend, which could be seen especially in the last sector. I'm also happy about the Michelin tyres, and expect us to be consistently quick in tomorrow's race. The race will be hot and I think tyre wear will be a crucial factor for the outcome."
David Coulthard (9th, 1:34.602): "Although my qualifying result is only a small improvement on my grid position in Melbourne, we seem to be much more competitive here, so it's definitely encouraging. In addition we appear to be better in race trim than some of the guys around us so I'm reasonably optimistic. Obviously during the first few laps, I will be in traffic but once the race starts to open out, we should be fast provided I get some clean air."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "Overall our speed is better than in Melbourne but more so in race conditions. It should be an interesting race with the key factor being the influence of temperature on both makes of tyres. On our cars the Michelin tyres seem to be working well and are quite consistent which should certainly further help the outcome of our race."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A reasonable basis for the race for Kimi, and I have no doubt that David is in a position to improve tomorrow. The race will be very tough, and I hope it will be better than the last one - both for the spectators and us."
Jarno Trulli (8th, 1:34.413): "I am disappointed with my result. We had expected to do better, but I made a number of mistakes on my lap and that cost me several tenths. Nevertheless, I'm optimistic for the race: the car will be quick on the long runs, and I think we can get back tomorrow, what we lost today."
Fernando Alonso (20th, No Time): "I made a mistake under braking for Turn 14, lost the back end and the car spun. Of course it's frustrating, particularly for the team who have worked hard this weekend, but I'm still confident. We know the car is quick and even starting last, I think we can fight for points. You can be sure it will be an aggressive, attacking race."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "This was certainly not the way we anticipated finishing qualifying. It does not appear that Jarno was able to reach the full potential of his car. Fernando's lap looked good for second position until he spun. However, motor racing is not about 'ifs'."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "Naturally, we are disappointed with the result from qualifying. The sessions this morning demonstrated that the fight would be close at the front of the field, so our objective was to finish in the top eight: in that light, we rather seem to have drawn the short end of the stick. However, all is definitely not lost: as we saw in Melbourne, our start advantage should be worth several positions to Jarno, and we mustn't forget that last year, cars which were running at the back at the end of the first lap - including Jarno - managed to finish in the points. The car will perform strongly in race conditions, and we will extract the maximum from it to get a good result tomorrow."
Jenson Button (6th, 1:34.221): "I'm a bit disappointed with sixth to be honest. I had two really good first sectors, especially the second sector - the high-speed part. Then I lost quite a bit of time in the final sector because I had too much oversteer, and two tenths overall on my best time this morning. We've struggled to find the right set-up here and we're not there yet, so it's going to be a case of wait-and-see for the race. I'm feeling reasonably positive though and we have a good chance of a points-finish tomorrow."
Takuma Sato (19th, No Time): "I'm obviously very disappointed to finish qualifying like this. I hit a bump in the high-speed turn 11 and just couldn't catch it. I was pushing hard and could feel that it was a better lap. After such a difficult start to the weekend I felt we had made good progress this morning and it all started to come together in that qualifying lap. The car wasn't damaged thankfully but I will be starting the race from the back row of the grid which is very frustrating. I feel we have a strong race package and I will certainly be fighting hard to improve my situation tomorrow and get as close to a point as possible."
David Richards, Team Principal: "Jenson should feel pleased with sixth on the grid after what has been a slightly frustrating weekend for the team. Our recent testing has focused on longer runs and reliability, and I am confident that this will translate into a strong race performance tomorrow. Taku is going to face an uphill challenge from the back of the grid, but in a race where one can expect a high attrition rate, he could still finish in the points."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "We have had a difficult day trying to find a good compromise set-up for qualifying and tomorrow's race, but we were reasonably happy with the cars by the start of the second qualifying run. We targeted a top-six grid slot so we are pleased with Jenson's qualifying position. Takuma unfortunately spun off into turn 10 and will be starting the race from the back of the grid, which is obviously disappointing but I'm sure he will fight hard to recover from that in the race. Tomorrow will be tough on the drivers and the cars, but we have worked hard on reliability and we believe that we will be able to score points from sixth place."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Overall Jenson did a good job and was able to qualify well. Taku was competitive through the first and second sectors and it's a shame that he didn't manage to complete his lap. We think we've got a good set-up and tyre selection for the race tomorrow and will be fighting to score points."
Felipe Massa (11th, 1:35.039): "My car's balance was very good in the first two sectors, but I was struggling quite a bit in the third one. It was like that this morning, and a bit worse this afternoon. The back end of the car lacked grip and stability. But 11th isn't too bad a place to start, and I know that we have a very good set-up for the race, so I think we can do a good job tomorrow."
Giancarlo Fisichella (12th, 1:35.061): "My car was better today and I was quite happy with the balance. Unfortunately I lost the back end a couple of times in the last two corners and lost around three-tenths of a second. Without that we could have been in the top 10, so that's disappointing. On the other hand, our race pace has been good, so I'm quite confident for the race."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Eleventh and twelfth positions are fine with us and are a result of a solid performance by both drivers. Of course it is annoying that we couldn't leave da Matta behind, but I'm hoping that we can make this up in the race."
Mark Webber (2nd, 1:33.715): "We are all very happy here at Jaguar Racing today after I managed to secure 2nd on the grid for tomorrow. The car has been good all weekend and my engineers and mechanics have done an amazing job in preparing the R5 for this circuit. We did not expect second today but I am more than pleased with the outcome. We have all been working so hard on the R5 and to start to see some of the results of this work pay off is fantastic motivation for the team. I know that we will all be giving it our best shot tomorrow and I will be fighting for points every step of the way. The circuit here is not easy by any standard but the car is competitive and the balance and set-up has been fine-tuned. It's going to be a tough afternoon for all of us out there but I am so excited that I can't wait. Michelin has done a great job on the tyres that they brought and to say they are working well on the car would be an understatement. Again, Cosworth are with us every step of the way, so roll on the race."
Christian Klien (13th, 1:35.158): "This morning was really productive for me as I managed to complete a good number of laps and I was comfortable with the set- up and balance that we achieved in preparation for qualifying. I did make a couple of small mistakes when I did my first qualifying lap but I was much happier with my second lap and I was pleased overall with the day. I am now really focusing on the race and after finishing in Melbourne, I would like to repeat this here tomorrow at the Sepang circuit. My engineers and mechanics have done a fantastic job all weekend in preparing the car and both Cosworth and Michelin are working very hard to support us. I would like to reward them all in the race with a good finish but we will just have to wait and see. The conditions at the track are really challenging but after my extensive training in Langkawi I should be in good shape for the race, and I am more than looking forward to it."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "It's been a very good day all round for us here and to have the car running as well as it is, is a reflection of our effort and that of our partners Cosworth Racing, Pi Research and Michelin. Both Mark and Christian completed their practice sessions with good times and we went into qualifying confident that we had a good mechanical and aerodynamic set-up on both cars as well as balance. Christian did a good job in his second qualifying session and Mark's performance was very impressive, especially on the last few corners which are incredibly difficult. We are in an extremely good starting position for tomorrow's race and I am looking forward to a good day. It's going to be exciting for all of us and we will be hoping for a good points finish as just reward."
Cristiano Da Matta (10th, 1:34.917): "I had a lot of understeer on my first run and after all the spins I have had this weekend, I was not 100% confident with the car. We made some changes in the short break and the car was much improved for the second lap and I was able to push more. I am very happy to have scored a top ten grid result - the progress we have made since Melbourne is quite encouraging, and with a bit of luck, maybe we can pick up a point or two in the race tomorrow."
Olivier Panis (14th, 1:35.617): "I am very disappointed with my lap time this afternoon. In the morning, the car balance and handling was good, so I am not really sure why the behaviour of the car changed so dramatically for the qualifying session. Now, we will look into the cause of the problem by cross-checking the data with the other car. I am pleased for Cristiano and congratulate him on his lap. We have worked hard this weekend, so I am still hopeful for the race."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director, Chassis: "Unfortunately, a disappointing qualifying for Olivier today. We made some balance changes to his car after the first qualifying run, but he then suffered from a lot of oversteer, which meant that he couldn't get the most out of the car on his second lap. Well done to Cristiano! He has had a difficult two days, however he drove an excellent lap to qualify in the top ten. Overall, it is pleasing to have closed the gap to the cars in front of us by quite a lot and we now have to look to get both TF104s to the chequered flag in tomorrow's race and hope to get some points."
Nick Heidfeld (15th, 1:36.569): "I'm quite happy with my qualifying laps although I had a little oversteer at the second last corner during the first qualifying. Second qualifying was better and we improved the car significantly through the weekend. We now have to work hard to improve the car to move forward up the grid. Tomorrow we need to focus on finishing the race."
Giorgio Pantano (18th, 1:39.902): "Unfortunately I had a problem with my race car which we found shortly before qualifying started and we weren't able to fix it in time. I had to drop from the race car to the T car and it was not the same as my race car, also the track was different from this morning and it was a very difficult lap. The rear was very slippery and we need to see if there is anything we can do. In the race we will be relying on our strategy to compete and honestly I think we will come up a little bit from my starting position."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "Today was a bit disappointing with Giorgio's gearbox problem, which we tried to fix during the first session so he would have still used his race car in the second session. However when we couldn't get it resolved in time we swapped him to the T car, which was set up for Nick and it was the first time Giorgio had driven it. Nick did a good solid run and we'll see how we go and where other people are in the race tomorrow in terms of actual speed and race pace. It will be hot and heavy going tomorrow and we are confident our Bridgestone tyres will deliver results."
Eddie Jordan, Team Principal:
Gianmaria Bruni (16th, 1:38.577): "It was good, as we matched our best lap time this morning in qualifying. Personally, I was very pleased to finish my first Formula One qualifying session after the problem we had in Melbourne, and I will admit I was just a little bit nervous before qualifying started. On my second qualifying run, I had good times in the first two sectors, but then made a mistake in the last sector and missed an apex, which probably cost me two-tenths of a second. Everyone on the team did a really good job today, and although I'm sure it will be a tough race, we will try our best."
Zsolt Baumgartner (17th, 1:39.272): "I'm not too happy with this afternoon's result, as we did a faster lap this morning. I made a mistake in the third sector on what should have been my fastest lap and lost quite a bit of time as a result. I really thought we could have done better. It's good that we're starting in front of three other drivers tomorrow, though, and my hope now is for a reliable car and a positive race result."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "All things said, I think we saw a good performance today from both drivers. We've been there or thereabouts all weekend when it comes to splitting the Jordans, and in reality, although we also have a BAR and a Renault starting behind us tomorrow, it's clear who we're racing. Both Gimmi and Zsolt have given 100 per cent this weekend, and we feel we're in good shape for tomorrow's race."
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