MAY 22, 2004
MONACO GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Bully for Trulli!
Jarno Trulli took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix and Formula 1 rejoiced. At last we had something other than Ferrari and this time, unlike in Imola and Barcelona there seemed a very real hope that Michael Schumacher would not be able to recover to win a sixth consecutive victory. Down at Ferrari they shrugged and said that it really didn't matter because Michael might just pick up some more points and extend his lead in the World Championship but when a team is that competitive in nature, failure does hurt. And this one hurt.
Throughout practice it had looked as though we would see another weekend of total Ferrari domination. The team always trys to psychologically batter the opposition on Fridays and the pattern at Monaco was the same, even if the action was taking place on Thursday. Schumacher was top of the timesheets by seven-tenths of a second after the first session and in the afternoon he was ahead of Anthony Davidson by four-tenths. But was it significant or was the team show-boating? That is how it is nowadays during the first day at a Grand Prix. No-one knows if the times have any real meaning.
It was however an imporant day for the engineers because the problem with Monaco is trying to figure out tyre choices. The track is never easy because although the tramac is not abrasive, there are all kinds of nasty dusts and diesel oils that have been left by the constant passing of normal Monaco folk. And when the Formula 1 cars go out and start cleaning up the track and putting down rubber, the grip conditions change completely. The thing that must always be remembered is that unless circumstances go completely berserk the Monaco Grand Prix is won and lost in qualifying because overtaking is so hard as to be impossible. So outright speed is not necessarily the issue. It is all about strategy and often the strategy of two cars rather than one. Ferrari might have gone for softer tyres even though they lost their edge after just five laps if they had been confident that Rubens Barrichello was on the front row alongside Michael Schumacher. But that did not look likely to happen and so the best strategy was to go for a bigger fuel load and harder tyres and hope to outlast the cars in front and make up lost ground when those with lighter fuel loads pitted in the first part of the race. But the risk was that Michael might eend up with two Renault or two BAR-Hondas in front of him and that would allow one to play the role of hare and the other to be an anti-Ferrari road block.
"There is nothing to stop us thinking we will be competitive," said Jean Todt, "but we know qualifying will be very close."
The biggest decision of the weekend would be taken on Thursday night. And it was not an easy decision.
"The track conditions were constantly evolving today," said Bridgestone's Hirohide Hamashima. "That can make lap times difficult to understand."
Down at Renault Pat Symonds was voicing an interesting theory.
"It is never won by a good racing car," he said. The car that wins is the one with "the least bad set-up" and then let the driver get on with the job.
This is true up to a point but with the modern F1 rules one must also add that reliability is vital as Ralf Schumacher when his BMW V10 went "clunk" on Thursday, which meant that whatever he did for the rest of the weekend he would be dumped 10 places back on the grid. With the paddock agog on the subject of Ralfie's future this was probably not the kind of message Schumacher Jr wanted to send to the big blacked suited types in Toyota headquarters in Tokyo.
There were problems too for Mark Webber when an oil line came undone in the Jaguar and the back end of the cat was scalded (if you will pardon the expression). The Monaco marshals were less than efficient and in the end Mark had to get out of the car and run to find a fire extinguisher and play the role of firemen himself. The engine was well and truly toasted but as nothing was actually broken and 10 places on the grid did not look very attractive the Jaguar team decided to hope for the best and see if the thing blew up.
On Saturday morning things went from bad to worse when the scalded cat caught fire for a second time when a hydraulic line blew off. Surely, we thought, the team would finally throw the engine in the skip and take the 10 place hit on the grid. Far from it. The Cosworth chaps scraped off the black bits and the team the chassis away and put the engine in a new set of clothing.
"Yeah," said Webber. "The engine has seen a bit of action!"
Webber actually led the way in the qualifying session until Michael Schumacher came out. Michael had found the car a bit of a handful in the pre-qualifying session and so was an early starter in the main qualifying session. It was a good lap but it was doubtful that a 1m14.516s was going to be fast enough for pole. Rubens Barrichello came close, getting to within two-tenths but then Trulli shocked everyone with an astonishing 1m13.985s. It was a fantastic lap.
We thought that no-one would get close but immediately Jarno looked to be under threat from Sato until the Japanese driver made a mistake and slipped away. Alonso pushed hard but he was still half a second off Trulli's lap. The danger then was Jenson Button in his BAR-Honda and he drove an excellent lap but it was only good enough for second on the grid, four-tenths of a second behind Trulli.
We knew then that the game was over because the McLaren-Mercedes were not going to be challenging for pole. They did quite well but were never a threat: Kimi Raikkonen lining up fifth and David Coulthard eighth. The final runner was Ralfie and he seemed to be a man with a mission to send a message to his detractors and so his lap of 1m14.345s was a decent effort and would have been second quickest if he did not have to start 12th. With Montoya 10th one had to ask how much fuel Ralf had in the car. With his race compromised anyway, there was no point in having any other strategy.
Renault was keen to make the point that its performance was as it seemed.
"We have not compromised our strategy in order to take pole," said Pat Symonds. "We are looking forward to a competitive race."
For once, so were all of us. Could it be we asked that final the great Michael Schumacher will be beaten?
Michael Schumacher (5th, 1:14.516): "This qualifying session was a little bit of a disappointment. That was the result of a difficult pre-qualifying when I found the track to be very slippery. It was much worse than expected, as you can see from the fact I was much quicker in the morning. The result was that I was a long way off where we wanted to be. It meant I had to make my second run very early. That certainly did not help. Because of my brother's problem I will be starting from fourth and we will have to try and get the best out of this situation tomorrow."
Rubens Barrichello (7th, 1:14.716): "I expected to be a bit further up the grid, but I don't feel that all is lost as far as tomorrow is concerned. I am reasonably happy with the handling of the car and I think we will be very competitive in the race. It won't be easy, but we could get a good result."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "At the end of a very closely contested qualifying session, we find ourselves, for the first time this season, off the front row. However, taking into account that another competitor is penalised for making an engine change, we have Michael on the second row and Rubens on the third, at the most difficult track from an overtaking point of view. Having said that, this will be a long race and anything can happen with many factors to be taken into consideration: strategy, reliability, the amount of fuel on board for the first stint and the consistency of the tyre performance. As far as this last factor is concerned, Bridgestone has provided us with a very good tyre. I am aware of the tough task that awaits us tomorrow, but we will tackle with the same approach and in the same frame of mind as we did the first five races, all won by Michael."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Obviously, a disappointing qualifying for us. Things became difficult right from the pre- qualifying. Michael found he had practically no grip on his lap, possibly because some cars were out after free practice and put some dust and oil on the track. The cars went well in qualifying but another factor that did not help was the fact that when the cars making their run after ours were doing their lap, the sun had gone in and the track became quicker. In any case, this race always throws up surprises from start to finish. We will have to be as well prepared as possible to make the most of any opportunity that comes our way."
Ralf Schumacher (2nd, 1:14.345): "It's a bitter-sweet result, of course, but all in all I am more pleased with my qualifying performance rather than depressed about the penalty. We got the best out of the car and I am sure we have a competitive set up for the race, but it's going to be difficult from where we'll be starting on the grid. I'm not worried too much about the penalty, though. The important thing is that we keep our morale at a high level. Our car looks better here than it did in Barcelona, as we were expecting, since we thought we had a good package for this track. Let's hope we collect some points tomorrow."
Juan Pablo Montoya (10th, 1:15.039): "My car felt much better in qualifying than in pre-qualifying, after we made some changes to it. But I had a big moment in the last corner, and lost some time there. The set-up is pretty good and I think we have got a very good race car, but again we are not quick enough. It would be good to get some points tomorrow. It is going to be a tough race, though."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "Ralf did a good job in qualifying, but he takes the ten place penalty and will now start from 12th position. But regardless of the disappointing race start positions, we will try everything to get both cars up into the points. Strategy will be exciting tomorrow."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "The outcome of the qualifying proves it again: Monaco has its very own characteristics. The grid is full of surprises. Ralf's qualifying performance was very good. By achieving the second quickest lap time, he has shown the car's potential. It is a shame he has to cope with the ten place penalty after we had to change the engine on his car on Thursday. In both of today's qualifying sessions Juan Pablo just did not manage to get a really good lap in. Now both our drivers will start in the middle of the pack. The engines ran without any trouble today."
Kimi Raikkonen (6th, 1:14.592): "For sure this has been our best Grand Prix weekend so far this year, and it's nice to be closer to the front again. A perfect lap might have gained us one more place on the grid, but the car and my Michelin tyres were working well. I think we have a good strategy for the race, but what will happen depends on what the other teams are doing strategy wise. I'm close to Michael on the starting grid and so far this year I have made some good getaways to gain quite a few places. In addition I'm on the right side of the track which I hope will prove an advantage."
David Coulthard (9th, 1:14.951): "My approach to my qualifying lap was much too conservative, and at the last part of the swimming pool section things were not perfect, which lost me some momentum and consequently time. As I love this circuit I'm a little disappointed not to have qualified higher up as it's so difficult to make up positions in the race."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "Clearly the team has made progress over earlier races with the characteristics of the Monaco circuit and the quality of our driver line up contributing to our grid positions which will allow us to fight at the front of the field."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A step in the right direction, and I hope that with our strategy we are in a position to make another one in the race. Our performance here so far has been better than in the races before, and Kimi and David should have a good basis for tomorrow."
Jarno Trulli (1st, 1:13.985): "It's wonderful to get my first pole here at Monaco: it's the right place to do it from a strategy point of view, and a fantastic reward for the whole team. My lap was fantastic: I wasn't particularly quick in the first sector, but the next two were nearly perfect. The car is very competitive in race set-up, very consistent, and we know that we are on the right strategy. I am felling very optimistic for tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso (4th, 1:14.408): "Even thought I am fourth today, I know that I will start from third tomorrow, and that good grid position is crucial here. I think I can run a very strong race - the car is easy to drive here, and very constant on the long runs. I am very happy with the work we have done today and tomorrow, hopefully we can have a competitive Grand Prix and score another podium finish."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "Congratulations to the whole team and particularly to Jarno, for a well-deserved pole position. It's even more pleasing because this is backed up by Fernando's second row start. We were pleased with the progress we had made in testing last week and while Monaco is a unique circuit, we certainly hope this is the start of our being able to take the fight to Ferrari. In terms of the race, we have not compromised our strategy in order to take pole, so we are looking forward to a competitive race."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "It is absolutely critical to start from the front at Monaco, and to have our two cars in first and third tomorrow is the perfect answer to this challenge. Qualifying confirmed our strong performance this morning, and both drivers put in fantastic laps. On the operational side, we completed our programmes this morning without any major incidents; our performance this afternoon is really the icing on the cake. Tomorrow, reliability and strategy will be crucial factors. We are confident that our strategy is correct, and so far this season our race reliability has been exemplary."
Jenson Button (3rd, 1:14.396): "It feels great to be starting the Monaco Grand Prix from the front row. This is a race everyone wants to do well in and to be in with the best chance of winning, or even on the podium, you have to be on the front row - preferably with the competition behind you! That might be the case with Michael, but I am sandwiched between the Renaults, and as we've seen here today, they are looking solid at the moment. We expected to be strong here, but I was struggling a little with set-up this morning. Thankfully we were able to address this for the start of qualifying and the car felt so much better, although I was still unable to get the best out of sector two. I'm pretty happy with everything though. I love it here and I think we can do a good job tomorrow."
Takuma Sato (8th, 1:14.827): "It's a great shame because I was on a really good lap until I had a moment in sector two coming off the kerb. I wasn't able to pick up grip straight away so I locked up into the chicane after the tunnel. Everything locked up - the front and the rears and I lost a lot of time. This unsettled me in sector three also. I'm not very happy because I could have been closer to the front row today, but I have to be positive and rely on what I think will be a strong strategy for tomorrow's race."
David Richards, Team Principal: "To be on the front row of the grid at Monaco is such a fantastic achievement for Jenson. This place is always special, and you know that if you can master Monte Carlo you have done a fine job. Taku's 7th place is not really a true reflection of his speed over the past few days, and I am sure he must be kicking himself for his small error, as he could have been up there with Jenson. Of course where you start here is critical, but the first round of stops will I am sure spring a few surprises. We will be pushing to get back on the podium."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "Qualifying position is extremely important here in Monaco, so we are very pleased that Jenson will be starting from the front row. Takuma unfortunately made a small mistake running over the kerbs on the exit from the tunnel, which lost him a probable front row qualifying position. The car has continued to be extremely reliable throughout the sessions, so we have been able to focus on set-up. The changes we made to Jenson's car after the morning's practice sessions worked well. This is clearly the best opportunity for a Michelin runner so far this season. We will be working very hard to ensure that BAR is the team that gets the results tomorrow."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Getting onto the front row at Monaco is of course very important so I am very pleased with Jenson's lap today. Taku must be a little disappointed but he still starts the race in a competitive position and I am sure will fight hard to score points. The grand prix here always proves to be exciting and I'm looking forward to the race very much."
Giancarlo Fisichella (11th, 1:15.352): "I'm pretty happy with the way things went this afternoon. It was a very good lap, apart from the first corner, Ste Devote, where I braked a little bit too late and locked the front wheels. Considering the level of fuel we have I am very satisfied. It is a great feeling to be right on our target here, especially as I love the Monaco circuit. Our tyre degradation was better today than on Thursday and it will be better still in the race, so I am optimistic I will be able to score some more points."
Felipe Massa (16th, 1:16.248): "To be honest, I wasn't very happy with my lap. The car did not feel as good as it did this morning. The balance was not stable and the handling was more nervous on turn-in. For sure I lost a lot of time up to the chicane. It wasn't any one major thing, I just lacked grip all the way round. We'll just have to see what happens tomorrow."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Congratulations to Giancarlo. He was able to reach our target starting position. The 10th slot on the grid allows us to hope for a good race with a positive outcome. Unfortunately, Felipe was not as happy with his performance and was not able to achieve the place that he and the team had hoped for. He will have a chance to correct that tomorrow in what is always a very tough race here."
Mark Webber (12th, 1:15.725): "It's been quite a busy weekend for us here in Monaco and the team has been doing a fantastic job on the cars. Although we have been up against a few tough deadlines we have learnt so much this weekend. There was a small hydraulic leak on my car today but we easily changed the engine over to the T-car and the guys did a good job on the balance and set-up. I really used my first qualifying session to check that all was good with the balance and I went into second qualifying hopeful of a good run. I am pleased with my 12th place considering the changes we have been making over the weekend to the car and if Ralf is penalised and moved ten places then I will be 11th. Tomorrow is going to be a good challenge and I am going to enjoy it and make the most of the R5."
Christian Klien (14th, 1:15.919): "I am really pleased with how today has gone. This was my first time here at Monaco and the car feels good around here. I was certainly a bit nervous going out there to start as there really is no room for error. The team has done an amazing job this weekend on the car and they provided me with a really good set-up for my qualifying lap. I am looking forward to tomorrow and my first race round here, I have no doubt that there is going to be lots of activity on track."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "Christian has done a really good job this weekend and he should be very pleased with himself. This is a tricky track and he has done well to master it so quickly. His car is well balanced for the street circuit and I am pleased with his 14th position. Mark has had a slightly more difficult weekend here but again he has done a good job to put the car in 12th position. My thanks goes to the team , Cosworth and Michelin this weekend who have all worked incredibly hard to provide the drivers with two competitive cars for tomorrow's race. We will be looking to make the most of any attrition on track and looking to our strategy to move us up the grid."
Olivier Panis (13th, 1:15.859): "Through this morning's sessions, I had some problems and did not feel too confident in the car, but this afternoon was much better. All the engineers and mechanics reacted very well after the practice to prepare a good car for me in qualifying. We did not expect to be fantastic at this circuit, but we did the job we needed to do and I am quite happy with my qualifying lap."
Cristiano Da Matta (15th, 1:16.169): "I felt that my lap was actually quite good considering our general lack of grip and I think we extracted all we could from the car today. Of course, there is always a little bit to gain here or there, but I don't believe we would have been able to achieve much more. In terms of performance, I hope that we can be a little bit better in the race, we just have to see what tomorrow brings."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "Coming here, we knew that we would struggle for pace in qualifying, so we have aimed for a more conservative race strategy. With the way the tyres are behaving, I am sure that this is the right decision. The team did a reasonable job today and the cars are quite well balanced, just lacking in grip, as we knew they would be. Now we have to see how the race pans out tomorrow and ensure that we get both cars to the finish."
Nick Heidfeld (17th, 1:16.488): "I'm reasonably happy with qualifying especially after we successfully addressed the brake problems I had on Thursday and some balance problems this morning. We made a couple of changes on the car, which were of benefit. I'm also very happy with the qualifying lap I did so I suppose that this position just reflects where we are at the moment. It's a Grand Prix where anything can happen so I am really looking forward to the race tomorrow."
Giorgio Pantano (18th, 1:17.443): "The car felt very different in qualifying compared to the weekend so far and we need to understand what's happened. Since this morning and Thursday, something changed and it was too slippery but only during qualifying - not before. All the weekend until now it was very good and we had no problems. It may have been the conditions so I hope that the good balance we found will come back to give me my best chance in the race."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "It was good to see an exciting qualifying session in Monaco. Nick has been working to fine tune the balance of his car during the course of the weekend and was relatively happy with qualifying. However Giorgio experienced the opposite: having been quite happy with the car up until this afternoon, during qualifying he felt a lack of grip that hadn't been a problem until then. On the positive side we have had no technical troubles at all and the weekend has been going according to plan. We are working hard to close the gap to the opposition but our positions today shows there is more to do. Having said that, I think it's quite difficult to predict what strategy the other cars are using for tomorrow so it could be an exciting race."
Zsolt Baumgartner (19th, 1:20.060): "It has not been a great day. I made a mistake this morning and lost quite a bit of running time. As a result, we were still struggling with car set-up this afternoon, and I lost time on my qualifying run when I locked the brakes up after the swimming pool. I could definitely have driven a better lap because I have set quicker times this weekend. The most important thing now, though, is to concentrate on getting the best we can out of the car in the race and to keep it on the track. There is the possibility of rain tomorrow, which could also affect things a lot."
Gianmaria Bruni (20th, 1:20.115): "We had a problem this morning, and there was a lot of time lost in the garage while my car was repaired. As a result, we really just used the qualifying runs to check the car for tomorrow. I'm upset I couldn't have done better, but this is my first time in Monaco, I've done perhaps 50 laps in total here now, and it's difficult to find a good chassis balance. I have to thank the mechanics because they did a great job today and tried their hardest. We'll do our best tomorrow, and hopefully have a good race to make up for the disappointment of today."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Sadly, the Minardi drivers didn't do themselves any favours today. Gimmi failed to complete his first flying lap of the day, hitting the barriers on cold brakes, and Zsolt followed a few laps later when he, too, came into contact with the all-inviting Monaco 'walls'. Although the team worked tirelessly, and succeeded in getting Zsolt out in the final minutes of the second session, the reality is the drivers had little or no track time before the all-important qualifying session. As such, their performances this afternoon simply reflect what has been an extremely bad day."