MAY 8, 2004
SPANISH GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Button falls off... Michael zips it up
The fight for pole position at the Spanish Grand Prix was a straight fight between Michael Schumacher's Ferrari and Jenson Button's BAR-Honda. Or at least it should have been.
In the end however the weather intervened and when that happens one can almost guarantee that Michael Schumacher will emerge with an advantage and he duly did. A gust of wind at the wrong moment gave Button a hint too much momentum halfway through his lap and in an instant the BAR was bouncing in the dust. Michael was on pole by six-tenths of a second. It is doubtful whether Button's lap would have been quick enough to beat the Ferrari but it is hard to say until after the race has been run. For all we know Michael was running with a lot less fuel than his rival in order to guarantee pole position. At Barcelona pole position is of great importance because overtaking is such a tough business and there is a risk that the race can be lost because one is stuck behind a slower car for a long period.
The Barcelona weekend is one on which strategy is always going to be of vital importance. The perfect strategy is to have enough fuel in your car to be able to take pole position but not so little that the first pit stop is so early that when you come out of pitlane again you get stuck in traffic. It is a race where predicting where there will be gaps in the traffic is of great importance.
Strategy is in many respects probably more important than the real performance of the car. And into this complex mix one has to throw the weather. The engineers have to guess what the weather will be on Sunday and then work their strategies backwards from that. It is a very complicated business. The result of all this is that no-one really has much of clue as to what a qualifying session actually means. Was Michael Schumacher's dominant pole position the sign of a long afternoon to come on Sunday or was it psychological warfare to try to convince the opposition that Ferrari is unbeatable? Or is Ferrari really under a threat from BAR-Honda.
Reading the timesheets it did not look like that because second on the grid was Juan Pablo Montoya in his Williams-BMW. It is clear that the Williams is not a match for the Ferrari in a straight fight, but then when do we have straight fights these days. The Williams has the advantage that Michelin rubber provides a driver with explosive performance at the start of each run but then the tyres drop back and are on a par with the Bridgestones. If a Michelin driver can use this potential and get ahead of Michael then there is a chance to beat him. If two Michelin men can get ahead Michael will be beaten despite the fact that he has the best car. Schumacher is vulnerable in qualifying, on the first lap of a race and on the first lap of each subsequent stint. The Ferrari is still the best car.
"For Michael it will be important not to lose ground in the opening part of the race," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn. "If he manages it he can control the pace, otherwise it will be a very hard fight."
There would not be much support from Rubens Barrichello who was on a different strategy. The 1.2 second gap between the two men was not as bad as it looked. In a worst case scenario Barrichello's strategy might give Ferrari a decent result if things go wrong for Michael.
Montoya did not have that kind of back-up as Ralf Schumacher was again off the pace. Six-tenths is too much of a gap for a man who is supposed to be a frontrunner. Discontent is building at Williams.
"It is a shame we don't have both cars at the front," said Sam Michael, voicing a view that is often heard within the team (although usually these days with slightly spicier language). Ralf needs to up his game or he may find himself at the gates of Grove with a Patrick Head-sized boot mark on the bottom of his overalls. Drivers are queueing up to take his place...
Button's mistake dropped Jenson to 14th on the grid but opened the door for a good performance from Takuma Sato and although there were hopes of pole position (which at 40-1 odds was a bet that many in the paddock chose to take) it was not to be. Takuma was third fastest but ended up a couple of tenths behind Montoya. The question was really whether Sato would have been quicker if he had run later in the qualifying session. Williams had set it up so that Montoya was the last to run. Takuma ran in the middle of the session. And the track did get faster. Takuma's achievement was a big step forward for the young Japanese driver and the best ever performance of a Japanese driver in F1 qualifying.
"It wasn't a perfect lap," he said. But it was rather more perfect than that of Button.
Renault also achieved its best qualifying result of the year with Jarno Trulli in fourth place and local hero and Spanish style guru Fernando Alonso lining up eighth.
"If he makes a good start I think we will see him challenging hard on the first lap," said Pat Symonds. "Well, we can hope. It will be a close fight tomorrow and as we have seen on a number of occasions this year, he is capable of a very strong result from eighth."
With Barrichello fifth and Ralf Schumacher sixth the job of being the best of the rest went to Olivier Panis in his Toyota. It was a good effort for the F1 veteran. Alonso was eighth and then came Mark Webber in the Jaguar. He had made a small mistake in the final sector of his qualifying lap but was confident for Sunday.
Neither Panis nor Webber was unduly troubled by their team mates: Cristiano da Matta lining up 11th and Christian Klien a disappointing 16th.
In the mix were the two McLarens in 10th and 13th but the team continues to be more focussed on important things like royal visits, crushed flowers in the car parks and whether or not designers should be allowed to drink at their work stations. Winning races was lost in the filing tray somewhere a few months back.
Sauber was knocking around the midfield with Jordan, and Minardi was down the back as ever, Zsolt Baumgartner on this occasion looking like a man who is in the wrong job...
And so to the race and whatever that may bring. Hopefully not another Ferrari massacre.
Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:15.022): "I would have preferred to have been further down the running order for the final qualifying session as the track was getting a lot quicker towards the end, so being about halfway down the pre-qualifying order was not ideal. Towards the end of the lap, I knew I had a very good first and second sector time, so in the final sector I made sure I was safe, especially as it is very easy to make a mistake at Turn 10. But in the end it was a very, very good lap. It was also a bit of a surprise to be honest, but I am happy to take pole. It has been difficult to set up the car, mainly because of the wind changing direction. Regarding the modifications at Turn 10, I think a good job has been done from the safety point of view and it might also provide the possibility to overtake as you can put someone under pressure at this corner and maybe they make a mistake."
Rubens Barrichello (5th, 1:16.272): "All in all, it was an average qualifying. Along with the team, we still have a little bit of work to do for tomorrow's race, but I feel there is every possibility of getting a good result. We know that we can rely on our Bridgestone tyres to provide a consistent level of performance over a long distance and this factor will play a part in the outcome of the race."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "A fantastic pole position for Michael and a wonderful basis from which to start his 200th Grand Prix. As for Rubens, he produced a good performance and starting from the third row means he has every possibility to do well. Obviously, when trying to draw conclusions from the qualifying result we have to take into account the fuel levels and tyre types chosen by our rivals. In our case, we know we can count on good consistency from the Bridgestone tyres. Tomorrow, as usual, reliability, strategy and the rate of tyre degradation will be key factors. Having said that, all the elements are in place for Ferrari to aim for a great result."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "I think we can expect a very exciting race with Montoya alongside Michael on the front row, especially in the opening laps. It will certainly add something to the expectations of this Spanish Grand Prix and I think that a lot of people will now want to watch it, both here and on television. From what we have seen, our rivals' tyres are very quick over one lap and then degrade somewhat, while ours are very consistent. For Michael it will be important not to lose ground in the opening part of the race. If he manages it, he can control the pace, otherwise it will be a very hard fight. Starting from the third row, Rubens will have to be very patient. His car is well balanced and it will be possible for him to get a good result."
Juan Pablo Montoya (2nd, 1:15.639): "I am very, very pleased to have qualified on the front row again, it was about time. My car had a really nice balance in the pre-qualifying session, but I had too much oversteer during final qualifying so I lost some time. Of course you always want more, but I believe we have a very good race car. We will have to see how our tyres behave tomorrow because this track is hard on the cars, especially the tyres. It will be a long race, but we will hopefully see some good racing action. It's important for the team's motivation that we've got this result today because everyone has been working really hard. It's also nice to see Takuma at the front of the grid."
Ralf Schumacher (6th, 1:16.293): "Of course I can not be happy with my qualifying result. It's clear that I didn't manage to get the best out of the car, especially in the mid-sector, as the car seemed very nervous through it. However, starting a race from sixth place, you can still finish well, as I think that we have gone for a very good strategy."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "Juan did a good job in qualifying so he should be in a good position to challenge in the race tomorrow. It's a shame we don't have both cars at the front. We had a good morning practice, during which we tried some new chassis set-ups, which we will run in the race, so we're looking forward to a good day tomorrow."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "This was a very good qualifying session for us. I would have expected the two Ferraris to have been on the front row, and also for the other BAR to have been further up the grid. Ralf obviously had problems with the handling of the car, mainly in the second sector, which cost him time and so a better grid position. On Friday, we saw the Ferraris doing very consistent lap times with their tyres, so I assume they will have an advantage in the race as well."
David Coulthard (10th, 1:16.636): "It wasn't a very good qualifying lap, so I'm not too surprised that we are on the fifth row. My lap time was slower than what I did this morning on the same level of fuel, so I believe that we have the potential to improve our position during the race. It might not be obvious looking at our qualifying performance, but I think we are making gradual progress. At the end of the day it's where we finish in the race tomorrow that matters."
Kimi Raikkonen (13th, 1:17.445): "The telemetry shows that until the last sector I was nearly level with my time from pre-qualifying. I'm not sure what happened but I didn't feel comfortable with the car and lost a lot of time towards the end. 13th position is not ideal but I will fight hard in the race and we will see what happens."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "The drivers' comments explain our poor qualifying positions. This morning's times would have put us further up the grid. However our general race pace seems quite good, which will hopefully give us the opportunity to be a bit more competitive in the race tomorrow."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "We knew that Barcelona would be difficult for us. However we will fight to score points."
Jarno Trulli (4th, 1:16.144): "The conditions today were extremely difficult - the wind really affected all the drivers, I think. It's a shame that we couldn't make it into the top three, but I'm still pleased with my best qualifying performance of the year. The handling was hard to judge during the timed lap because it was so windy, but the car balance had been good in pre-qualifying. Starting from fourth position, I will be aiming for a strong result tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso (8th, 1:16.422): "This afternoon, the main factor was the wind. It was gusting very strongly while I was on the circuit, but most importantly it was very inconsistent: sometimes a tailwind, sometimes a headwind. It made it difficult to have confidence in the car's reactions, because it was changing at every corner. We weren't very quick in pre-qualifying, but we made some changes to make the rear end less nervous. It will be a tough race from eighth position, and our competitors are very close, but we know the R24 is competitive in race trim and I am hoping to run a strong race for my fans tomorrow."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "It was a fantastic lap from Jarno, and he well deserves his spot on the second row. He and his team worked hard on the balance of his car this morning, and this result reflects how good a job they did. If he makes a good start, I think we could see him challenging hard on the first lap. As for Fernando, he did not have much luck at his home race. Our data indicates it was a good lap, but the gusty conditions were near their peak at that time and he found the car was even moving about on the straight because of the wind, which gives some measure of how difficult a task he had. However, it will be a close fight tomorrow and as we have seen on a number of occasions this year, he is capable of a very strong result from eighth; for Jarno, a podium finish is a realistic objective."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "This was our best qualifying performance of the year so far: Jarno is in a perfect position to fight at the front tomorrow, while Fernando will undoubtedly put in an aggressive drive from eighth. Our programmes today went perfectly according to plan, and in light of the hierarchy we have seen appear this weekend, we have the logical hope of seeing at least one Renault on the podium tomorrow."
Takuma Sato (3rd, 1:15.809): "It's fantastic to be starting the race from 3rd on the grid - my best ever starting position in a Formula One race. It means a huge amount to me, to Honda and all the people who support the team. I didn't get a very good start to my weekend yesterday but I had a very successful free practice this morning and I felt really comfortable with the car, so I knew we could be strong in qualifying. This is not an easy circuit; the track conditions are constantly changing and the wind was picking up during the final run. I knew I just had to concentrate every step of the way around the track and I'm pleased with the end result. It wasn't a perfect lap; the first sector was good then the car was a little twitchy in the second sector and I probably lost a little time in the last sector as a result. This is a track I know well though and I just want to do the best job I can tomorrow. We have a strong and well-balanced car and a great opportunity to be on the podium. It won't be easy though but I'll certainly be trying my best."
Jenson Button (14th, 1:17.575): "My lap was very disappointing. It was going quite well early in the weekend, although I have been struggling a little bit with the set-up around here. The conditions have changed a lot since pre-qualifying as there's a lot more wind now, which is one of the reasons why I ended up having an excursion. The first sector was OK and I had lots of grip but then I got some understeer, went wide coming around turn 7, went onto the grass and had to lift off in the end, which was disappointing as it has put me down to 14th. Sometimes these things happen though. It's great for Taku, but for me it's not so good starting further down the grid. We'll have to think overnight on strategy options for tomorrow and see if we can recover some ground."
David Richards, Team Principal: "I am delighted that Taku has done such a good job translating his winter testing form into this terrific performance today. Friday was not easy for him, and yet he maintained his focus and calmly set about delivering his best result yet. I think he has shown in his short history with the team that he is not easily intimidated by the top names, and I expect to see him making an early challenge on the front row. As for Jenson, it is obviously a disappointment given that we know he has phenomenal speed at this circuit. However, my view is that as a team we have to take these challenges in our stride and that it is just part of the learning process. I fully expect that Jenson will be able to get back in the points, and provide strong back-up to Taku."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "Today did not run quite to plan. Takuma had a very good lap only just losing out on a front row position at the last moment. An uncharacteristic mistake from Jenson caused him to run wide at turn 7, dropping him to 14th place, probably as a result of pushing too hard in the gusty conditions. The track has been quite difficult all day with low grip and inconsistent conditions, but we have been happy with the speed and balance of the car. Takuma is clearly in a great position for the race, but Jenson will have a lot of work to do tomorrow. Our target, as always, is to get both cars in the points and one on the podium."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Taku has done a good job to get third place today. We have a competitive car here and I am sure we can fight for the podium again this Sunday."
Giancarlo Fisichella (12th, 1:17.444): "I am pretty pleased with the way things went today, because we achieved our target. We have a good race strategy with some good possibilities, and we know that the tyre performance is consistent, so if things go our way I believe that I can score some points."
Felipe Massa (17th, 1:17.866): "I made a mistake in Turn Seven, and lost everything there. It was my fault completely. Without that it would have been a good lap, at least four-tenths faster. I'm not so happy with myself, but I know that I have a good car for the race, and that the tyres are pretty consistent, and I will be pushing very hard tomorrow."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Giancarlo fully exploited the potential of the car this afternoon, and starting from 12th place he can achieve something tomorrow. Felipe had similar potential and without his mid-sector mistake would have been at the same level as Giancarlo, as he had been in all the practice sessions."
Mark Webber (9th, 1:16.514): "My second practice session was productive this morning and I was happy with my set-up and preparation going into qualifying. My first two sectors were clean and I was going well until unfortunately I made a minor error in the final section and I lost a few tenths. The team has done a great job all weekend and I would like to have given the boys a few more places on the grid, but there you go, it's the nature of the game. We are well prepared for the race tomorrow and as this is quite a challenging track there are likely to be a few surprises along the way. I am confident that the R5 is in good shape for the race and there is no reason why I should not be challenging for points tomorrow. The car is capable of it so lets see what we can do."
Christian Klien (16th, 1:17.812): "I spent most of this morning working on set-up evaluation and I completed a good number of laps. After my spin yesterday I felt that I needed to make a few more changes to the car before I would be completely happy and I managed to make these changes in the morning sessions. I then went into qualifying very happy with the balance of the car and my set-up. Both of my qualifying laps were clean, although the track was slower in the second session and you can see this in the times. I am disappointed that I did not manage to extract more but my strategy for the race is good and I am looking forward to getting out on track tomorrow. There are a few overtaking opportunities here so I will be making the most of these. I will be aiming for the chequered flag tomorrow and will capitalise on any attrition."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "Mark did a very good job today and I am pleased with his 9th position although I know that he would have liked higher, his minor error cost him a number of places. However, 9th is a good points challenging position to start from and we will be looking to our strategy to stand us in good stead. Christian unfortunately has not had as much time in the car this weekend and was unable to capitalise on the R5 inherent pace as much as we had hoped. The pace of the car is there so we need to be aiming higher in qualifying with Christian if we are to gain the points that we know we are capable of. The car continues to be reliable and I am looking forward to the race tomorrow. The track is a difficult in places and can catch even experienced drivers out so we will be making the most of this and looking for the chequered flag and some points to reward the hard work of the team."
Olivier Panis (7th, 1:16.313): "My lap today was very good and the whole team has done a great job all weekend to fine tune the car to find those crucial tenths-of-a-second. We are improving step-by-step and everyone is very focussed on the job we have to do. We know that this circuit suits our car well, which we have shown in winter testing, and this qualifying result offers us a strong opportunity to score some points in tomorrow's race."
Cristiano Da Matta (11th, 1:17.038): "I am not particularly pleased with my qualifying lap today. I suffered from a lot more understeer on my second run and I am sure the track and weather conditions in general were a contributing factor. I tried to compensate for the understeer from inside the car, but I pushed maybe too hard and overdrove the car a little bit. The bottom line is that we lost something from the first session to the second and we have to find out exactly what."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "I think it has been a reasonable Saturday and a positive qualifying session for Toyota. Olivier did an excellent job having not participated in the second session this morning due to an electrical problem. Cristiano suffered from understeer on his second run and did not achieve the full potential, but overall I think we can be very happy with our grid positions and look forward to scoring points in tomorrow's race."
Nick Heidfeld (15th, 1:17.802): "I'm happy to have a Jaguar and a Sauber behind me and I'm also happy with how the whole weekend has gone so far as we are now closer to the other cars' lap times. However, I have to say I am not happy with this particular lap. Very unusually, for some reason I struggled with this individual run ? I found the balance difficult and there was less grip. It was difficult to get around without throwing the car away so I'm pleased with my time, considering that."
Giorgio Pantano (19th, 1:20.607): "This morning it was coming together quite well and we found quite a good car balance. We are looking at where we are losing time from the others and were hoping to make an improvement in qualifying. I was quite good on the first sector, down maybe two tenths, but then as I arrived at corner six I made a mistake and lost my best lap time. It was my mistake and that's all there is to say."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "It is good to out-qualify Sauber and Jaguar for the first time as this reinforces the improvements we have made in recent weeks. It was a demanding session for us as Nick's car developed a gearbox problem before qualifying which meant changing the gearbox within a very tight time frame to get the car out in first qualifying. During the session, the drivers found that strong winds tended to change the balance of the car. Unfortunately Giorgio made a mistake on his lap and we decided it was worth him finishing it as it still looked as though he could get ahead of the Minardis. He managed to stay ahead of one but the time lost was of too much detriment to be able to get ahead of both. On the positive side this weekend, so far we have not lost any track time to technical problems and it is encouraging to see the gap between us and the cars ahead starting to narrow. Let's see what the race brings tomorrow."
Gianmaria Bruni (18th, 1:19.817): "It was a difficult morning, but the guys did a fantastic job to sort out the problem, and I'm pleased for them that we were able to set a decent time this afternoon. We made our tyre choice at the end of yesterday, but the problem was that without any chance to do any real running this morning, I had no idea how the tyres would feel at the limit on the track. Fortunately, my engineer came up with something and it worked well, so I am very happy. We are certainly in better shape here than we were at Imola, and I now hope for a good, clean race tomorrow with no mistakes."
Zsolt Baumgartner (20th, 1:21.470): "I think we had two reasonably good sessions this morning, although the cool temperature meant it was difficult to find a good balance for the chassis. Unfortunately, we continued to struggle with that in qualifying. I'm disappointed, because I think I could have done a better lap time this afternoon, but we'll work with what we've got and hope to have a strong race tomorrow."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Barcelona is a track where Minardi gives away a bit of time to those teams that are testing here almost continuously. It's therefore pleasing to see our times were quite respectable today, and although we still need to improve, I'm confident we'll have an interesting race tomorrow."
SATURDAY PRESS CONFERENCE
ECCLESTONE WANTS NEW QUALIFYING IN MIDSEASON
SPANISH GP GETS AN EXTENSION (MAYBE)
BERNIE LOOKS FOR NEW BRITISH GP PROMOTER
PRACTICE 4 RESULTS
WHAT IS THE GPWC DOING NOW?
QUEEN ELIZABETH TO OPEN MTC
PRACTICE 3 RESULTS
MEANWHILE IN THE HIGH COURT...
NEWEY TO COMPETE IN HISTORIC LE MANS EVENT
GPWC MEETING FOR BARCELONA
STREET RACING IN BILBAO
JEFF GORDON IN THE PADDOCK