APRIL 3, 2004
BAHRAIN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Red sea in Gulf
When the Formula 1 teams go into the unknown these day it is usually the same ones which do their homework best and emerge at the front. The funny thing about Bahrain was that being knew seemed to have no effect at all on the performance of the teams. It was expected that the track would favour those with more horsepower and great aerodynamics was not an issue as it had been in Australia and Malaysia. In other words this was a point and squirt track. It was challenging sure enough but there was probably a reason hat by the end of qualifying theree was a very clear team-by-team pattern to the grid. That always used to happen at Hockenheim in the days that was a horsepower circuit. Michael Schumacher reckoned that the team-by-team layout was a coincidence butthat seemed too pat an explanation. There were glitches to the car-by-car theme but when one looked closely there was usually a clear-cut reason involved.
The interesting thing was that neither Renault nor Jaguar were particularly good, indicating that both cars gain much of their competitiveness from aero-efficiency.
"We've been traction-hunting a lot," explained Jaguar's Mark Webber. "The car's no good in the low-speed stuff. It was a completely different ballgame in Malaysia."
Webber compounded the problem by making a mistake on his flying lap and so ended up a lot further back than we have come to expect and behind his team mate Christian Klien. The Australian reckoned that if he had not screwed up he would have been about half a second ahead of Klien.
"We should have been in the top 10 if I had done a reasonable lap," he said, taking the blame on his firm chin. "But we are not competitive here."
It was the same story down at Renault.
"We're not expecting much," said one of the team on Thursday. "We reckon that a Michelin car with good horsepower will be the thing to have and we haven't got enough grunt."
The same old story then.
This would seem to have left the way open for Williams, BAR and Toyota while McLaren continues o have so many problems that it cannot claim to be on the pace in either aerodynamics or horsepower.
The thing that was not sure was where Ferrari would be and on Saturday morning the answer seemed to be that he red cars would be behind the Williams-BMWs but after qualifying there was a familiar look to the timesheet: Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello. That picture did not really tell the story because the Williams boys had screwed up - as they tend to do these days.
This was the big disappointment of qualifying as the chance of a good race was lessened considerably by the fact that Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were both behind Rubens Barrichello - and should not have been there.
"Ralf and Juan both made mistakes," said one of the team members. "It cost each of them four-tenths of a second. Ralf made a mess of Turn 5 and that mean that he lost time in Turn Six. Juan lost the time in Turn 12. If the two had got it right they would have been right with Michael. More importantly they would have been ahead of Rubens. That way they would have made it less likely that Rubens will keep them behind in the race and allow Michael to get away."
The start was obviously going to be of crucial importance.
Behind the Ferraris and Williams-BMWs we had the two BAR-Hondas with Takuma Sato on this occasion outgunning Jenson Button and given the amount of rear wing that the cars were dragging around behind them, the Honda V10m engine is now very powerful indeed. The car is good and the team was confident that it might be possible to have another podium finish.
"We wanted to have both cars in the top six in qualifying," said David Richards. "That is what we have got. Now we want to see one of the drivers on the podium."
Button, who had been fastest in both Saturday morning sessions, had lost the confidence in the rear of his car and he reckoned that it had cost him half a second in the course of his fast lap. If he had had a good run he would have been second on the grid.
Behind the BARs was Jarno Trulli in his Renault but Fernando Alonso was nowhere to be found. On his fast run the Spaniard dropped the ball at the first corner and lost a second. He rejoined, pushed hard and then fell off again at the last corner. Fernando blamed the brakes. Getting points was going to be a tough call but after what happened in Malaysia the team hoped that it would be possible.
Toyota was going well with Olivier Panis eighth and Cristiano da Matta ninth.
This pushed the first McLaren down to 10th but once again there was big trouble for Kimi Raikkonen because of an engine failure on Friday which meant that he went into qualifying knowing that he would have to dop 10 places on the grid. The McLaren strategists went to work to figure out what to do and it was decided to save a lap of fuel and scrub the tyres but not use them on a qualifying run. The theory was that Kimi would be unlikely to qualify better than 16th or 17th and so it would be bettre to start at the back with scrubbed tyres and try to make up more places on the first lap. It was a bigger risk but might pay off during the first lap of the race.
The rest trailed along behind but none were going to have much of an effect on the race at the front.
The interesting thing was going to be the first corner...
Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:30.139): "Of course, I am happy to be on pole for the first race here, but I cannot say I got a perfect lap. I was right on the limit and sometimes over it. I think that this is because the track is technically demanding and difficult, which I think everyone is happy about, because we are not supposed to be here for an easy life! I think the technical nature of the track, combined with the high track temperatures and the fact that it is very slippery off the racing line, will mean that tomorrow's race will be very difficult. I hope it is a good show for all the fans coming to see their first grand prix."
Rubens Barrichello (2nd, 1:30.530): "I would describe my qualifying lap as a reasonable one, not a very good one. During pre-qualifying I was not so happy with my brakes. But in the qualifying, they were much better and I think that as I had not expected them to be so good, I was a bit too conservative in the way I tackled my lap. I was out on track a bit earlier in the running order for qualifying and so there was a slight difference in track temperature with those who ran last. But I do not think this made a significant difference to my lap time. Now, I am happy with my brakes and with the balance of the car, so I feel confident I have a good package for the race."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "It was a great qualifying session, with our drivers ensuring that the first ever Bahrain Grand Prix will have an all-red front row. It was a very closely contested session, right up to the very end. Michael and Rubens put on a great show and all the team did an excellent job in what, despite the excellent facilities, are still very difficult conditions. However, now we still have to tackle the hardest part of the weekend. For tomorrow's race, the heat will be a key factor, making life tough for drivers, cars, engines and chassis. As is always the case therefore, reliability will be the crucial ingredient, along with a the drivers' ability to tackle a race run in very difficult conditions."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "I am a bit surprised by our result. We adopted a very conservative approach to this weekend, in view of the rule demanding we use just one engine for the duration of the grand prix weekend. On top of that was the added unknown of the sand, which made us even more cautious in terms of the way we used the engines. When evaluating this result, we have to consider we don't know what strategies our closest rivals have adopted. So far, the Bridgestone tyres have worked pretty well, but given this is a brand new track and that it has already changed a lot since the start of the weekend, we must bear in mind that we have no data which would allow us to make predictions about the race. But it is the same for everyone and will probably make the race even more interesting."
Juan Pablo Montoya (3rd, 1:30.581): "It is a shame, because I was having a very good lap and I was really quick in the first and second sectors. I lost all my advantage and even more in the third part, in the last corner actually, where I was trying to find a bit more speed. I'm not sure I could have set the pole without that problem at the last corner, because Michael was really quick. It is a bit disappointing of course being only third, but at least I will still be starting from the clean side of the track. It is difficult to predict how tomorrow's race is going to be."
Ralf Schumacher (4th, 1:30.633): "I am really pleased with my car and my qualifying performance. My race set-up should turn into an advantage tomorrow. But still, my lap time could have been better today. I lost some time in the middle sector. Ferrari seems to be very strong again, but I think, if my brother and Rubens do not manage to open up a gap soon after the start, we could give them a hard time tomorrow."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "It was a reasonable day from the qualifying point of view but in order to start beating Ferrari we really need to be on front row. However, it is going to be a long race tomorrow, hard on all the cars, and we are confident of our performances. We are looking forward to an exciting Grand Prix at this fantastic new venue."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "We have witnessed an interesting qualifying session today and having both cars on the second row is a good result. Juan Pablo said he lost his chance for pole position just in the last corner. In Ralf's case it was the second sector where he lost time. None of our drivers experienced any engine trouble today. We are in a good position for tomorrow's race. The weather forecast for Sunday is not really clear. Also the first corner after the start might become crucial although the track is wide there, the clean line is actually a narrow band."
David Coulthard (10th, 1:31.719): "Our difficult weekend continues as we have just not been able to get the package working to our advantage. The car feels OK through corners 11 and 12 but apart from that it's really difficult to find the speed. The plan for tomorrow's race is to get a good start and gain a couple of places and then keep out of trouble and aim for reliability. The circuit is quite challenging, and I do like it, but I believe there is only a limited amount of overtaking opportunities, but we will have to wait and see."
Kimi Raikkonen (20th, No Time): "As we had to change my engine yesterday we knew that no matter where I qualified we would have to move 10 places down. As a result we decided to change our tactics so I can start with a good fuel load and new tyres. Hopefully this strategy will pay off tomorrow, but we will have to wait and see. In motor racing anything is possible and I will do my best and hopefully we can do well."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "The drivers' comments have explained the circumstances of qualifying, but even in this difficult situation a racing team, irrespective of the magnitude of the challenge, has to focus on the race which is exactly what we are doing."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "After Kimi's engine failure yesterday and his subsequent relegation by ten places, our aim had to be on focusing on the optimum race strategy. After two bad practice days our target must now be to finish in the points with both David and Kimi."
Jarno Trulli (7th, 1:30.971): "It was a pretty good qualifying session from my perspective. As we had seen yesterday and this morning, I am competitive in the first and third sectors, but there is still progress to be made in the second part of the lap. I am expecting a tough race tomorrow: the grip level is improving all the time and I believe the track will change significantly during the race itself. The car balance is good, so I think we can certainly hope to score more points tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso (17th, 1:34.130): "I had big problems under braking this afternoon. We didn't change anything on the car, but I was locking the front wheels every time I had to brake hard. We know that we can still score points tomorrow, we saw that much in Malaysia, but it won't be easy from that starting position."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "Jarno had a good lap and finished where we had expected him to be, if our estimates of our rivals' strategies are correct. Fernando appears to have suffered from a brake problem, which we will work to identify in order to see if it can be corrected under parc ferme rules. We remain confident for tomorrow's race: the Michelin tyres are performing very well, and we believe we have just sufficient margin on our brakes, which will be punished hard at this circuit."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "We went into second qualifying with the hope of getting two cars into the top eight. Jarno's performance has confirmed our pace in terms of pure performance, and I think he can hope for a strong race tomorrow. The obvious reasons for disappointment are that we failed to have a trouble-free session, and that our two drivers are separated by a significant gap. However, I believe points are still within Fernando's reach. We are confident in the solutions we have found for the race, and at least one of our drivers can expect to score a good number of points."
Takuma Sato (5th, 1:30.827): "It was a good lap considering that I had some oversteer, so I'm quite pleased. It has been a very productive weekend so far and I'm happy that we haven't had any problems so far. I have been able to get lots of laps in and this really helped with my qualifying result, so this just shows what is possible with the right preparation. I'm really looking forward to the race."
Jenson Button (6th, 1:30.856): "I'm lost as to why my qualifying lap was so slow because we could and should have been quicker based on this morning's running. So I'm actually quite disappointed. The car has been great all weekend and we've been looking so strong, but this afternoon the car felt very different from this morning. Some of that will be down to changing track conditions and loss of grip, but we'll have to look at the information and see what went wrong. There's still some work to do if we are to achieve our full potential here tomorrow."
David Richards, Team Principal: "I am delighted that Taku has continued this weekend's good form into qualifying and is now matching Jenson's performance. This is crucial in our bid to challenge the top three teams, and I am confident that both our drivers will be a very strong force in the race tomorrow."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "Takuma is very happy with his performance this afternoon, finding good balance during final qualifying when conditions had changed quite a lot relative to this morning. Jenson was not so happy and struggled to find grip for one lap. However, we were pleased to have both cars in the top six and as our strong performance this morning shows, we're in good shape for the race."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Another good day for us in Bahrain. Both our drivers did well today and we're looking strong for the race tomorrow. Another podium is definitely achievable and at the very least we are looking to finish both cars in the points."
Giancarlo Fisichella (11th, 1:31.731): "I am much happier with everything today. I feel better physically, and the car was the best it's been for me all season. The gap between me and those in front is also closer, and I did two good, clean qualifying laps this afternoon. We worked on the car all day and got a much better balance than yesterday, and I think we will be even closer to the front in the race. The target, of course, is to score points, and I think we can do this."
Felipe Massa (13th, 1:32.536): "I made a huge mistake in the first corner, and then I went over the kerb in Turn Four and lost traction. The second and third sectors were okay, but by then the damage was done. It's really disappointing because we improved the car a lot over the first qualifying session, even though I lost track time this morning with a fuel pressure problem which didn't make it easy to get the car balanced. We tend to run better in the race, though, and I always think that I can score points, so I'll be going all out to achieve that tomorrow. It'll be fantastic if I can."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "I am pleased that we were able to make a clear step forward over yesterday's performance. Giancarlo drove an excellent lap, and there are only five hundredths of a second separating us from eighth place. Unfortunately Felipe didn't find his rhythm today. We proved in Malaysia, however, that we had a quick and reliable race car, so I am confident we have the potential to score points tomorrow."
Christian Klien (12th, 1:32.332): "My lap was not perfect this afternoon and so I am not best pleased with my final qualifying position. I feel that the track had changed since this morning's sessions so it was different going out this afternoon. I felt that because of this the car was slightly more nervous under braking and so it was more difficult to extract the best from the R5. There really is only one good line out there so tomorrow is going to be interesting. If you go off-line the track is really dirty and this could make overtaking slightly more challenging. I have started further down the grid than twelfth before so to be honest I am going to really enjoy tomorrow and I am looking forward to the start. It is my first race where experience matters less so I will be giving it my best shot."
Mark Webber (14th, 1:32.625): "We continued to work on set-up and balance this morning and we completed our programme as planned. I was pleased with how the car was feeling but unfortunately qualifying this afternoon was not an accurate reflection of where we should be and what the R5 is capable of. The grip levels reduced slightly in my second session and I made a couple of minor mistakes in section one and obviously this was frustrating for me. I tried to get it back but I couldn't so hence my qualifying position. The track has some good over-taking opportunities so we will have to make the most of these in tomorrow's race."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "The R5 has been strong all weekend and both Mark and Christian have been delivering some encouraging times. It's good to see Christian matching the times of Mark at this track as this is the first race weekend where the other drivers are all learning the layout of the circuit too. I was slightly disappointed though to see us in twelfth and fourteenth at the end of today's qualifying. Both drivers suffered from slightly less grip in this afternoon's session and I know that Mark made a couple of minor mistakes and could have extracted a few more tenths. Saying that, we have a good strategy in place for tomorrow's race and with that I am looking forward to the start of the first Bahrain Grand Prix."
Olivier Panis (8th, 1:31.686): "We started the season with some different problems but everyone has reacted well to keep pushing and improving. Now we are making steady progress at each race weekend to optimise everything we have. I am happy with my qualifying lap today. We have both cars in the top ten, so now we have to continue to be strong and to push to the maximum. I believe we are on a good strategy and we have shown reliability in the first two races, so we have to think of getting to the end of the race in the points. The whole team is working very well together and today has been an excellent result for everybody."
Cristiano Da Matta (9th, 1:31.717): "I have been pleasantly surprised by our performance at the Bahrain circuit and particularly by this morning's free practice results. I think our car suits this type of smooth surface track, and we have also benefited from competitive Michelin tyres. In qualifying, we tried a slightly lower fuel lap for the first session and it appeared that the track conditions were not as favourable compared to the morning. We topped the fuel up more for the important second run, and overall I am pleased to be starting the race from 9th. With both cars in the top ten, I think we can target a points finish tomorrow, like we almost achieved in Malaysia two weeks' ago."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director, Chassis: "Well done to both drivers and the team! It has been a highly satisfying two days for Panasonic Toyota Racing and reward for all the hard work we have all put in since the opening race of the season. To get both cars in the top ten is a tremendous achievement. The cars have been reasonably competitive throughout the whole weekend with a good balance. Considering the reliability we have demonstrated so far this season, we have to look at getting two cars home in the points tomorrow. The Michelin tyre choice was quick and clear for us after yesterday's free practice and the choice has been confirmed by our performance today. We are very happy with the tyres in terms of one-lap performance and consistency, so all in all we are looking good for tomorrow."
Nick Heidfeld (15th, 1:33.506): "I have qualified 15th which is the same as my qualifying in the previous two races but unfortunately this time as we had to change the engine after free practice yesterday, I have to start ten places further back. I think we did a reasonable job learning the new circuit and the tyres, despite losing some crucial time yesterday when I missed most of the second practice session due to the engine problem. The biggest issue for me in qualifying was a cone in the middle of the track at turn 10! It should have been moved, it cost me time as it forced me to take a different line."
Giorgio Pantano (16th, 1:34.105): "I'm not happy really because after yesterday we planned to qualify with a good time and that would put us in a good position for the race. But today we tried different set-up configurations with the car and it hurt me a lot. Now we need to understand why it's changed so much between one day and the next. I find it very strange because we did good timed laps and found a good car yesterday and today we have not been able to find a balance."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "Today we experienced another change in the qualifying procedure compared to Malaysia. Both drivers found a change in balance given the rise in track temperature this afternoon and associated loss of rear grip. We worked on correcting this for the second run but did not get on top of it quickly enough. It's good to see Bridgestone on pole position as they worked very hard to produce tyres for this new track and the conditions here, so all credit to them for that. This is our first race on our chosen tyre and we are still working to understand how to get the best from them. We are confident that we have got the car and tyre balance right for tomorrow and are looking forward to the unique challenges of the first ever F1 race at this circuit."
Gianmaria Bruni (18th, 1:34.584): "We did some excellent work this morning. The mechanics and the engineers did a great job, because we changed the car a lot to arrive at a good set-up. I had a good first qualifying lap this afternoon, and an even better second one, so I am pleased for myself and for all the guys, who put in a big effort today. I think for the package we have, we achieved quite a good lap."
Zsolt Baumgartner (19th, 1:35.787): "I struggled a bit in qualifying, mainly, I think, because I missed the chance to try the last two sets of new tyres in the final morning session as a result of the spin I had. Maybe I was then a little too cautious in my qualifying runs as, like yesterday, the track changed in grip quite a lot between the morning and afternoon sessions and I didn't really get a good feel for the tyres. It was not a good qualifying performance, but the only thing to do now is to put it behind me and focus on making a good start and having a strong race tomorrow."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "The morning sessions saw both drivers complete the majority of their technical programmes, albeit Zsolt's final run was curtailed by a small excursion into the gravel. Both drivers gave their all in qualifying, however, and despite finishing P18 and P19, we look forward to a productive race tomorrow at this magnificent facility."