MAY 29, 2004
EUROPEAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Hell hath no fury
The English have a wonderfully quaint expression called "a country mile" which means a considerable distance. If, for example, a man is completely dominant in a running race, the English will say that he won it by "a country mile" even if the race is less than a mile in length. In qualifying for the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring it was fair to say that Michael Schumacher was a country mile ahead of the opposition, although in these days of Euro-crats and EU standardization one must suppose that Michael was ahead by a rural kilometre.
Rural is a good word for the area around the Ring although perhaps bucolic is a little better because in addition to trees and fields there is no shortage of local wildlife: deer, foxes, wabbits and probably even wild boar. And then there is the Schumacher Fan, an apparently domesticated species which can be identified by its habit of wearing a red cap and by an ability to drink a very large amount of beer. Its mating call appears to be a rather slurred noise, which sounds a bit like "Schumi!". It is believed to be a distant cousin of the British species Mansell Fan, although this species is now close to extinction.
The Schumacher Fans were not happy when the Red Baron was shot down in flames in Monaco a few days before he was due to race at home (or what used to be home before Michael moved to a hermetically-sealed private estate on the tax-free shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland) and it was not really a surprise that Michael felt the need to humiliate the opposition on Saturday afternoon. He wanted to show the opposition that he is the dominant force in F1 and all the pretenders, young and old, should take to the hills. How dare they think that they can beat Michael in a Ferrari? How dare they? They must be crushed. And crushed they were. Michael was on pole by an obscene margin. A country mile.
The only question was whether or not this was the pace that Michael could run in the race or whether he had gone for a lighter fuel load on Saturday, just to make a point, to maintain the psychological warfare we have seen all year, trying to convince the opposition that the best they can hope for is to finish second. Dulling the ambitions of the opposition is part of the Schumacher winning process but even amongst the conspiracy theorists in the paddock this argument made little sense and all that was left was the horrible conclusion was that Monaco was Tinseltown and this is Reality.
But in F1 in 2004 the only way that one can truly judge reality is on Sunday afternoon when the race is run and the band has played the German national anthem. The regulations are such that the media can only guess what is going on and then rebuild the story of what happened during the weekend after the event. Logically, this should mean that race fans would be only too keen to go out and buy magazines explaining it all but alas F1 magazine sales continue to drop and one is drawn to the conclusion that F1 needs to deliver a little more instant gratification if it wishes to have any relevance to the man in the street. Monaco did that job nicely but now we are back to business as usual.
Our understanding of the sport was helped somewhat on Friday when Ferrari's Ross Brawn was sufficiently exasperated by questions from the press that he explained how it was that he thought Michael might have won Monaco. Brawn reckoned that "potentially the car was four-tenths of a second faster" than that of Jarno Trulli. That sounded about right and at a track like the Nurburgring where overtaking possible there was no chance that Michael would be bottled up like a genie as he was in Monte Carlo. Anthony Davidson might have been quickest in the first session and Kimi Raikkonen in the second (one cannot help but think that perhaps the Mercedes-Benz PR machine might have been involved in a bit of local publicity stunt in this respect). Jenson Button was fastest in both Saturday morning sessions and Takuma Sato simply flew in the pre-qualifying runs but when push came to shove and it all meant something there was only one man in the ballpark: Michael Schumacher 1m28.351s. Takuma Sato made it into the 1m28s by the beat of a humming bird's wing but the gap to Schumacher was 0.635s and that is a rural kilometre in anyone's book.
When asked before the race whether he thought that he could bounce back from the Monaco defeat Michael replied with "Yup" and added that he thought that "the Nurburgring should be good for our car". This he proved in no uncertain terms on Saturday. The fact that Rubens Barrichello was a second behind did not seem to surprise anyone.
"Rubens made a few mistakes which given how close the times were cost him a few places on the grid," explained Ross Brawn.
In fact Barrichello was seventh on the grid. No-one seemed to have any answers to Schumacher's speed.
"It looks like we are just not quick at the moment," said Juan Pablo Montoya.
"Ninth place is where I expected to be," said Ralf Schumacher, ever the motivating force for the Williams team.
"It is hard to believe that I am here in third," said Jarno Trulli (in a whisper because since Monaco his voice has failed him).
"I am in a good position to finish in the top five tomorrow," said Fernando Alonso.
Jenson Button suggested that if he had not made a mistake early in his qualifying lap he might have been closer but starting fifth on the grid would not help his cause.
Takuma Sato was probably the happiest person around because second on the grid is the best ever achieved by a Japanese driver.
"Michael's lap was stunning," he said, "but I did not let it affect me. I just got on with the job and everything went well."
The McLaren revival remained questionable but with Kimi Raikkonen fourth on the grid it certainly looked good and the team made all the right noises about progress being made. It was just a shame that David Coulthard's only involvement in qualifying was waving from his car as he was ferried back to pitlane on the back of a flat-bed truck after an engine failure.
The rest did not much matter. The Toyotas are tagging along at the back of the big teams while Jaguar seems to have sunk back into the eager arms for Jordan.
One can hope for good things on Sunday but the signs are that we may have an afternoon which will keep the Schumacher fans happy but send the rest of the F1 viewers off to sleep.
Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:28.351): "I had the perfect lap, but I am surprised at the gap to the others, although I am not surprised to be on pole as I expected to be very competitive here. It was nice not to be first on the road in pre-qualifying as that helped in being able to run towards the end of the session. As for the race, I am looking forward to it, as there is always some extra motivation from the fans at a home race. It is also good to be racing so soon after Monaco to put that disappointment behind me. Although it is difficult to get the car perfectly balanced at this track, I seem able to do consistent lap times and I am confident we have made the right decision on tyres and hopefully we can win the race tomorrow."
Rubens Barrichello (7th, 1:29.353): "Apart from Michael, who did a great time, we are all within a few tenths of one another, so it only took very little to be higher or lower on the grid. I think we have a car and tyre combination that will be very competitive in the race and so I am reasonably confident about tomorrow. It will be a tough race and we have everything in place to get a good result."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "We dedicate this pole to Umberto Agnelli, who would have been proud of Michael's achievement today. We are pleased to renew our acquaintance with pole after Michael's run of five was interrupted in Monaco. All things considered, Rubens also did well and is in with a chance of a good result tomorrow. There are so many parameters to take into consideration : the start, the strategy, tyre wear. In this area Bridgestone has provided us with tyres that are very consistent not only in terms of performance, but also reliability, without which you are nowhere and that also applies to Shell, who I thank for their work on the crucial area of our lubricants."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Michael had a fantastic qualifying session today with a really unbelievable lap! We were a little bit unsure about the performance of the tyres on the first laps, so this morning we worked a lot to get the best out of them in this area. Michael did an impeccable job. Rubens made a few mistakes, which given how close the times were, cost him a few places on the grid. We are happy with the handling of the cars and tyres which are performing very consistently. We are looking forward with optimism to tomorrow's race."
Juan Pablo Montoya (8th, 1:29.354): "I was one of the first cars out in the pre-qualifying session and that held us up a bit , but it looks like we are just not quick enough at the moment. I have been struggling a bit with the balance so far this weekend and it looked like in qualifying I had got it right, finally, but still, we lack of speed. Several teams seem to have improved their car quite a lot and we haven't improved enough. We'll see how the race goes, let's hope to get some good points out of here."
Ralf Schumacher (9th, 1:29.459): "Ninth place is not where I expected to be, really. It was quite difficult to get the balance right for qualifying and I decided to go for something different, but it didn't work out particularly well. We tried our best but it's clear that we are struggling at the moment, since our car hasn't developed enough. At present we lack performance but I am sure we will definitely come back soon. With a good strategy I am confident I'll be able to collect some points in tomorrow's race."
Sam Michael, Chief Operations Engineer: "It obviously was a disappointing qualifying session. We have had no real mechanical problems with either car and were hoping for a better result. We now will work hard tonight to see what we can do on our strategy to get some points tomorrow."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "In today's qualifying Michael Schumacher has again proved he is in a class of his own and he is obviously the favourite for the race. Behind the first row, there are seven drivers in three tenths of a second. Among them, Juan Pablo and Ralf have unhappily achieved position eight and nine. We had hoped to be more at the front, but both the drivers were not completely happy with their car in the final qualifying. Now we have to try and make up for the lost ground."
Kimi Raikkonen (4th, 1:29.137): "Our best qualifying performance this season, so I'm satisfied. We were even hoping to get in the first three with a perfect lap, but whilst we were close it wasn't to be. Now one half of the job has been done, and we need to see what happens in the race, but so far it's looking good. The circuit seems to suit our car as we have showed improvement throughout the weekend, but there is still a race to complete."
David Coulthard (20th, No Time): "On my way back to the garage after my first qualifying run, I suffered an engine failure. We took the decision to stick with my race car rather than using the T-car because we felt more comfortable using the race car, and the difference in actual qualifying position would be minimal. As a result we will move the engine from the T-car to the race car, which means I will start from the back of the grid. There is no doubt that our performance is improving. Obviously its disappointing as my first run was encouraging, and I think we could have qualified well for the race."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "We have been going well so far here at the Nurburgring, so David's engine failure was disappointing as I believe we had the package to have two cars in the top six. Our race strategy should allow both Kimi and David to perform strongly. The team's performance is improving step by step, and we remain focused and committed to continue to enhance our competitiveness."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A good performance by Kimi and the entire team with fourth place and a starting position on the second row. Sorry for David following his engine change he must start from the last row. Our performance is slowly moving forward, but the reliability has to be further improved."
Jarno Trulli (3rd, 1:29.135): "It's hard to believe that I am here, in third position. I particularly want to thank my mechanics, who did a fantastic job preparing the car after an electrical problem in free practice. Honestly, I believe we have the best mechanics in the paddock here at Renault. It was a decent lap, and the car was handling well. I think we can be very strong in the race."
Fernando Alonso (6th, 1:29.313): "I did a good lap, without any problems: the car balance was fine, and we are consistent on the long race runs. I think I am in a good position to finish in the top five tomorrow. Overall, I'm happy with my performance."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "Jarno qualified very well once more, on a track that is very different from Monaco. It looked like a clean lap, and his starting position should blend well with our strategy. Fernando also did a good lap, and will start from a strong grid position. I am sure that he will, as always, translate this to an even better finishing position."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "Today's results demonstrate how similar many of the cars are in terms of performance and strategy, if we omit Michael (Schumacher) from the equation. The final position confirm the order we saw develop yesterday, with some very small gaps. We did a good job preparing for the race during practice, and this result is a nice continuation of our recent competitiveness. It is very encouraging for tomorrow."
Takuma Sato (2nd, 1:28.986): "Qualifying on the front row of the grid is a fantastic result. I'm so excited! Qualifying third in Spain was a great moment but I just wanted to keep improving from there and this is the next step. I'm thrilled with my lap because it felt very clean. The track has been changing a lot but for me the conditions were similar to my pre-qualifying run so I knew that I had a good lap in my grasp. Michael's lap was stunning but I didn't let it affect me. I just got on with the job and everything went well. Today's result is special in many ways and as everyone is pointing out, this is the first time I've qualified on the front row of the grid and that is fantastic for me. I really hope I can turn this into a strong podium finish in the race but I will focus on enjoying today for now."
Jenson Button (5th, 1:29.245): "I'm very disappointed with my lap because we could have done much better today. I came into the weekend expecting to make the front row but lack of grip has been a big problem and that was the case in qualifying. The track conditions have been quite changeable so we'll have to wait and see what tomorrow holds, but we have a good car and I'll be doing what I can to make the most of the overtaking opportunities."
David Richards, Team Principal: "One can't help but share in Taku's excitement and all his fans in Japan will be thrilled to see him become the first Japanese driver to line up on the front row of a Formula One grid. Let's hope we see a similar start from him as we saw in Monaco!!! We need to understand how Jenson lost out on his potential for a far better grid position but I'm confident that he'll soon put today behind him and set his sights on another podium."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "The car has been working well here all weekend so we were confident of qualifying well today. Takuma drove a faultless lap to gain his first-ever front row grid position. Jenson was disappointed with his second run after being fastest this morning but a small mistake in sector one lost him several tenths as his tyres took a while to clean up. Given the closeness of the grid this dropped him to 5th place. With the strategy we have in place we are confident for tomorrow's race."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Good stuff! Both guys up towards the front will give us a chance to fight for the podium again tomorrow. Congratulations to Takuma for his first front row start."
Felipe Massa (16th, 1:31.982): "I made a mistake in Turn 7 which cost me at least a couple of positions. This morning it was difficult to find a good set-up but we improved the car for qualifying so I know that I will have a good car for the race."
Giancarlo Fisichella (19th, No Time): "It was a tactical decision to conserve the tyres and not take part in the qualifying session, given that I have to move back 10 places on the grid because of my problem on Friday morning. The car is still improving from race to race, and though it won't be an easy race at least you can overtake here and I know we can be competitive."
Willy Rampf, Technical Director: "It made good sense to us to conserve Giancarlo's car by not participating in the official qualifying session, as this will keep his tyres in premium condition for the race. Felipe's result was not what we expected, and both starting positions are disappointing."
Mark Webber (14th, 1:30.797 + 1 second penalty): "After having a good day yesterday I heard from the FIA Stewards last night that I had been given a one second penalty on my qualifying time from today as a result of not braking under a yellow flag. We have to respect these rules as they exist for safety reasons but of course it is frustrating for all of us. Today though we have had a productive day on track as I spent this morning in the two practice sessions working on tyre preparation and also on qualifying and race set-up. The R5 is feeling pretty good around here and I completed twenty three laps this morning so I have had a good amount of running time. The car was well prepared going into the qualifying session this afternoon and I was pleased to have done a time of 1:30.797. I made a minor error on the last corner but it didn't cost me much time. Even with my one second penalty I will not be starting from the back of the grid. I finished with points here last year and I excited about getting back out on track tomorrow and fighting for some more."
Christian Klien (12th, 1:31.431): "I spent this morning working on my balance on the R5 and preparation for qualifying. The car feels well balanced for me now and I am enjoying driving it. I completed over thirty laps this morning which was really good for us and we managed to work through our programme successfully. My times were getting quicker as I settled into the car and track. Qualifying this afternoon was in two parts, I went well in the first session but the track changes a lot in a short time and I could feel the difference when I went out for the second time. My time was not quite as fast but I am still happy with where I am on the grid for tomorrow's race . The race should be interesting and I will be doing what I can to move up the grid in search of my first points."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "We have been working hard this morning preparing our cars and the work seems to be paying off. I am satisfied with Christian and Mark's position of twelfth and fourteen respectively and given our strategy for tomorrow we should be in for an interesting race. The balance of the R5 around here has been good and both of the cars are set-up well. We were of course not happy when we heard about Mark's one second penalty for setting a fastest sector time under a yellow flag but that's the rules and we respect them. Christian spent this morning on set-up and steadily improving his pace and I am keen to see how he gets on tomorrow. Both drivers know this track well so they will be giving it their all and racing for points. The team over the last couple of weeks has been working incredibly hard in preparation for the back-to-back races so we are looking for it to pay off."
Olivier Panis (10th, 1:29.697): "It has been an encouraging weekend so far, and I think what we have achieved today is a true reflection of the strength of our car. Me and Cristiano both did very good laps and the result is very positive for the team, who have again been concentrated all weekend and shown a good performance. We are using everything we have and pushing each other all the way to get the best out of the car. From tenth on the grid, I will obviously be trying to score some points tomorrow."
Cristiano Da Matta (11th, 1:29.706): "I am reasonably happy with today's results, although I feel that I could have found a few tenths more from the car. I missed a little bit through some corners, especially turns four and five, but generally I think my lap was not too bad. I was a bit worried about the tyre degradation in yesterday's sessions, but that appeared to be much better today as more rubber went down on the track. Michelin has done a good job for this race; the tyres are quick over one lap and also seem to be consistent during the longer runs. This is a positive aspect for tomorrow, although it could be a hard race for us."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "Qualifying today was very close indeed and we are right on the tail of the group in front of us. Based on our performance during the weekend, I am sure we can have a competitive race tomorrow and look to score more points to add to the ones we picked up in Monaco. Both drivers are reasonably happy with the car and I think our grid positions of 10th and 11th, and the gap to those ahead of us perfectly demonstrate the progress that Toyota is making."
Nick Heidfeld (13th, 1:31.604): "I was quite happy with my qualifying lap, it was certainly better than first qualifying. We improved the car massively this morning compared to yesterday - thanks to the team, especially the engineers. I was not very happy with my first qualifying lap but we made some small adjustments that seemed to work. It's nice to be in front of the Saubers - that is a good thing for us. Bridgestone have got a good tyre here but it's difficult to get it optimised for one lap so the race should be interesting. My hopes for points are always there, especially racing at home. Nevertheless we will give it our best shot and see what happens."
Giorgio Pantano (15th, 1:31.979): "I'm disappointed that I didn't deliver my best on that lap. I was not completely on the limit and although for the first two sectors I was just a few hundredths of a second off Nick's time, I messed up the last sector when I made a mistake on the last corner at the chicane. When you know you could have been better it's very frustrating and I think I would have been at least three tenths quicker if I had got a perfect lap. On the positive side, we improved quite a lot from this morning and yesterday, when it was not going so well. I believe we have a good consistent race car so let's see what happens tomorrow."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering:
Eddie Jordan, Team Principal: "We are pleased with P13 and P15, our best qualifying so far in 2004 and it's good to be ahead of the Saubers, a Jaguar and one of the McLarens due to their problems. We had trouble-free practice and qualifying and both drivers responded well to the pressure this afternoon. We continued to improve the car all weekend and we are looking forward to the race. We have ordered rain but it may not come!"
Gianmaria Bruni (17th, 1:34.022): "It has been a bit of a confusing day in that we started with the spare car, which felt quite different from my normal chassis, and then switched back to the race car. I especially want to thank the guys, who worked like crazy to get my race car ready in the final 15 minutes before the qualifying run. It's going to be a tough race tomorrow, but I'm going to push as hard as I can, and hope to finish with a good result."
Zsolt Baumgartner (18th, 1:34.398): "Overall, I think it has been a good weekend so far. I was not particularly happy with the first sector on my qualifying run, but the remainder of the lap was not bad, and in general, I think we have made some useful progress over the last two days. I believe we have a good race strategy, so we will see what we can do tomorrow."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "It was a solid performance today - particularly in the morning sessions and pre-qualifying, our times were very respectable, given the circumstances. Clearly, the qualifying run with fuel shows we have a different strategy from that of the teams we've been much closer to this weekend. All in all, we're looking forward to a productive race tomorrow."
BRAWN TO GET BIGGER FERRARI ROLE
THE QUALIFYING CONUNDRUM
WIN A RIDE WITH MICHAEL OR RUBENS
SATURDAY PRESS CONFERENCE
PRACTICE 4 REPORT - BUTTON BEATS THE FERRARI MEN
PRACTICE 4 RESULTS
PRACTICE 3 RESULTS
RUMOURS AND REALITIES
WEBBER GETS A PENALTY
HSBC PULLING OUT?
NEW QUALIFYING FROM SILVERSTONE