Surprise, surprise

Ralf Schumacher, Canadian GP 2004

Ralf Schumacher, Canadian GP 2004 

 © The Cahier Archive

No-one expected Ralf Schumacher to take pole position for Williams in Montreal, least of all the German himself.

"We expected to be somewhere in the top six," Ralf admitted after the session, "but we did not expect to be on pole. Everyone knows that in Montreal you need the straightline speed and we did that quite well. It is easy to make a mistake here but luckily that didn't happen. But I don't think that Ferrari has gone from being the fastest car to being a second behind. I think Ferrari realised that the Michelin runners would be very quick in the first few laps and have changed their strategy."

In other words Ralf thought his brother was on either a two-stop strategy or a three-stop with a big fuel load at the start. Perhaps Ferrari was flexible enough to use either option so that Michael could switch strategies according to the circumstances. Canada, if must be remembered, often has Safety Car inventions.

Michael remained outwardly confident (which is all part of the psychological warfare that is part and parcel of Ferrari's tactics these days) and pointed out that "I have won races from lower positions on the grid". That is as maybe but history relates that Montreal is a track where if you have enough straightline speed you cannot be overtaken unless the man behind takes a big risk. Michael may have consistent tyres but to win from sixth on the grid in Canada would involve a very high risk strategy. Not, of course, that Michael needs to win every race. His World Championship position is hardly under threat after six wins in seven races and with the points structure in F1 favouring consistency a second or third place will be fine to maintain the momentum.

One might say that Michael is not a man who will settle for second when winning will do but he also knows that there are times when picking up points is the right solution - something which has yet to enter the head of Takuma Sato.

Everyone had expected the biggest challenge to Ferrari to come from BAR-Honda and so it was a bit of a surprise when we ended up with Williams first and fourth on the grid and a Renault third and fifth. BAR-Honda was second and 17th and if that sounds a little odd it is because Mr Sato remains a driver with a few flaws. All things considered, BAR should have had pole position but Jenson Button went into the hairpin too quickly and locked up the right front slightly and so lost a couple of tenths. That would have been enough for pole position.

"To be a full second ahead of Michael is fantastic," said Jenson. "It's a bit strange, but it is great!"

Sato had been on his way to a similar time but at the final corner, pushing too hard because he had lost some time with a slide earlier in the lap, Takuma tried to do the impossible and the laws of physics flashed before his eyes as the car gyrated at the final corner. The car stayed off the walls and ended up pointing in the right direction and so Sato did what he does best and jammed his foot to the floor and managed to get across the start-finish line with a time that was still better than Zsolt Baumgartner's untroubled lap in a Minardi (there is a message there, Zsolt).

"I am very annoyed with myself," Takuma said in his impeccable English.

He was not as annoyed as the men on the pit wall at BAR-Honda.

David Richards spoke of Button's "mature and measured performance" and then went on to express "disappointment" at Sato.

"We had the speed to deliver," he said. "He should have consolidated the lap into what would have been a row two grid slot. I support his brave and ambitious spirit. We just need to channel it in the right direction."

From 17th on the grid the chances of Sato getting points on Sunday were slim, particularly as Takuma has been known to have the occasional bingle while forcing through the field.

One way or the other, BAR's drivers had each given away ground. So too had Juan Pablo Montoya, who ended up nearly eight-tenths behind his team mate, a rare thing these days.

"The car was feeling pretty good in qualifying," Juan explained, "but I made a couple of mistakes and I had to pay for that. I locked the rear wheels into the hairpin and lost some valuable time there."

The biggest fear at the start down at BMW Williams was that third-placed Jarno Trulli would use the eye-popping Renault starting device and be ahead of everyone at the first corner. This is quite a likely scenario given the season to do, what was surprising was that the team was even in the hunt for victory because the people in blue and yellow had not expected Montreal to a race favouring their car. The engine is still down on power compared to the big guns at the moment and with horsepower being important at Montreal the Renaults were good. Once again Trulli, who is suddenly driving like a man who has seen a sports psychologist, was ahead of Fernando Alonso, a sitution which would have seemed fanciful a few months ago. Alonso complained of debris on the road and understeer.

So there were five car between Michael Schumacher and glory and we wondered how they might make a mess of it and let Michael win on Sunday.

The interesting thing, however, had been that all through qualifying it had been clear that over one lap Michael was under pressure and was pushing hard and making mistakes. His sixth place on the grid might have been third or fourth if he had clawed back three-tenths of a second. The big question was how much fuel did Michael have. The consensus appeared to be that he would not stop until lap 21 or 22 while others would be pitting from lap 12 onwards.

"Neither driver had a clean lap," said Ferrari's Ross Brawn. "We have seen that the tyres are good for long runs and so we need good starts and the right strategy."

Barrichello's seventh place was a useful performance given that in the morning he had bounced over a kerb and damaged the Ferrari chassis to such an extent that his engine had to be switched into the spare car. The set-up was nopt perfect and he made a mistake on his qualifying lap and probably he would have been ahead of Michael if it had been a clear lap, which made us curious about his strategy.

Eighth and ninth positions belonged to McLaren while Jaguar Racing's Christian Klien was 10th and looking good although to be that far ahead of Mark Webber suggested that the Austrian was probably on a different strategy to the Australian, who would start 14th but might have been 12th if he had not locked up at one point on his fastest lap.

Giancarlo Fisichella was 11th and happy enough with that but poor old Felipe Massa never got to run because of a puncture on his warming up lap, so he would be starting from the back on Sunday.

The two Toyotas were 12th and 13th and one wondered whether they had perhaps decided to go for a heavy-fuel first stint in the hope of making up places when the light-fuel brigade headed into pitlane.

The only drama at Jordan was the substitution of Giorgio Pantano by Timo Glock, poor Giorgio being the victim of squabbles amongst his management. The Minardis were the Minardis: Baumgartner was low and Gianmaria Bruni never had a run because of fuel pressure problem.

On Saturday night everyone ruminated about strategy and while that was all well and good the big question was whether or not they would all be able to get through the first corner without trouble.


Michael Schumacher (6th, 1:13.355): "I would say this was a difficult qualifying session. I had not expected it to be easy, but now it will be interesting to see how well our tyres will perform in the race and how much ground we make up compared to what we have lost in qualifying. I have won races from lower positions on the grid and so I am still confident for tomorrow."

Rubens Barrichello (7th, 1:13.562): "It was a bit of a complicated day. This morning I took a kerb differently to usual and the car bottomed out hard enough to damage the chassis. The mechanics then did a fantastic job to refit my engine into the spare car, which meant I was able to get out on track again for the second part of the fourth session. The new car is handling pretty well, but my lap was not perfect. I actually made a mistake at Turn 6 which probably cost me at least half a second. But I remain confident for tomorrow because the car is very competitive in race trim."

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "No doubt about it, this was a difficult qualifying, with Michael ending up on the third row and Rubens on the fourth. The result is not what we would have wished for and it will make for a complicated race tomorrow for us. However, it still looks very open and as usual, strategy and reliability will be decisive factors. We aim to bring home as many points as possible, important for both Championships."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "All weekend we have had a tyre from Bridgestone that has been very good from the point of view of consistency, but it was a bit of a struggle to get the most out of it on the first lap. That hurt us a bit this afternoon, added to which neither of our drivers did a clean lap. But we can still be optimistic as we have a tyre we can rely on to be very good for many laps, as we saw in free practice. Now we must rely on the drivers to make a good start and then help them with the right strategy."


Ralf Schumacher (1st, 1:12.275): "I am surprised about this brilliant result, since we struggled quite a lot yesterday and this morning. But the team did a great job in getting the car right which allowed me to achieve this unexpected pole. The car started to feel very well in the pre-qualifying session and it was very good in qualifying too. We have really turned the set-up around and we have definitely found the right one. When I saw that Michael had qualified sixth I started thinking I could do it. It is going to be a great race tomorrow, also because all the cars on Michelin tyres seem to be very consistent. I am looking forward to it."

Juan Pablo Montoya (4th, 1:13.072): "I am a bit disappointed with my result because I could have achieved more. Unlike yesterday and this morning, my car was feeling pretty good in qualifying but I made a couple of mistakes and I had to pay for that. I locked the rear wheels into the hairpin and lost some valuable time there. Ralf did a great job and put a good lap in. We have worked very hard on the car since yesterday and it's clear that we have moved forward. Both Ralf and myself are in a very good position for the race. Let's see how it goes."

Sam Michael, Technical Director: "We had a lot of work to do from where we were yesterday to now, in particular on brakes and set-up. The team did a very good job to get the cars to where they are, and it was a fantastic lap by Ralf. We are looking forward to a really competitive race tomorrow."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Of course, this is a fantastic result for the team. In the pre-qualifying both drivers were very fast and satisfied with their cars. Ralf later had a perfect lap, he made the most out of it. The positions one and four are the best so far this season for us and we are very happy. I think here in Montreal four teams will be able to fight for victory."


Kimi Raikkonen (8th, 1:13.595): "It was an okay lap. However I had some problems at the last chicane and maybe lost one place. Basically on this circuit you need to drive over the kerbs a little bit, so how fast you get through the corner depends on how well you do that. Hopefully we can finish the race tomorrow and get some points."

David Coulthard (9th, 1:13.681): "I had a small amount of oversteer and was sliding a little bit with the rear during my qualifying lap, and as a result I went a bit wide at a couple of chicanes, so there is some time lost there. The balance of the car is good, so I think if we run reliably in tomorrow's race, it should be possible to score some points."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "As always the grid here reflects different race strategies and tyre choices, which coupled with the statistically high use of the safety car, could make the race very interesting. Our own race strategy and choice of tyres should provide us with an opportunity to score some points."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "An interesting grid with a result for our team, which I think reflects more or less our current level of competitiveness. It could be an interesting race tomorrow with different strategies."


Jarno Trulli (3rd, 1:13.023): "This is the fourth race in a row that I have started from the second row or higher, and that obviously puts us in a strong position for tomorrow. I had a good lap, but couldn't repeat my time from this morning - I think the hotter track conditions may have had something to do with it, and I think we will see some variation in strategies tomorrow. However, third is a good result, and the car has been competitive on the longer runs. We will see what happens tomorrow."

Fernando Alonso (5th, 1:13.308): "I am happy with fifth, even though it is not as quick as I did this morning. On my out lap, I hit some debris from Sato's car, and then made a smack mistake at turn 8 on the qualifying lap, and we found that the car was damaged at the end of the run. I had a bit too much understeer to be really quick, but to be in the top five is enough to race well."

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "We have been quick all weekend, and third and fifth are good starting positions, bearing in mind our strategy. Some of our competitors challenged us hard today but as always, it will not be until well into the race that we will be able to make a definitive judgement as to the relative speeds of the cars. Jarno's lap seemed good, although his straightline speed was down a little, and we need to look at this. Fernando's car was reasonably damaged by the end of the lap, and that undoubtedly cost him time."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "It was a satisfying qualifying performance for the team, and confirms the order we saw begin to establish itself this morning. The performance of the two cars was comparable, and we are certainly optimistic for the race, starting so close to the front. The new engine specification functioned perfectly on the first occasion it was used to its full potential."


Jenson Button (2nd, 1:12.341): "I'm very pleased with my lap and a front row grid slot. Not as pleased as if I'd held on to pole but I'll settle for second. I lost a bit of time in the hairpin because I went a bit deep and locked up the front right. There are a couple more tenths in the car yet so to be a full second ahead of Michael is fantastic; a bit strange but great nonetheless. Having three cars between myself and Michael is a bonus - but I guess I still have Jarno behind me to worry about! Neither the team nor myself have ever had much luck here and it would be nice for us to change that this weekend. I'm told it will be a capacity crowd here tomorrow and I'm optimistic that we can give them something other than a Ferrari 1-2 to smile about!"

Takuma Sato (17th, 1:17.004): "It has been a difficult day for me. In the morning session we lost the first part of the practice due to an oil pressure problem and then lost part of the second practice session, so we could not try all of the variables on the car that we wanted to. However, the car felt great in pre-qualifying and I started the final qualifying session feeling very confident. Sector one was very good, but I had a slide through turns six and seven, and in trying to make up time, I missed the first part of the last chicane and hit the kerb. I'm very annoyed with myself and I've certainly made life hard by having to start so far back down the grid. It will be a tough race for me tomorrow but this circuit has some good overtaking opportunities, so I have to be positive for tomorrow and try my best."

David Richards, Team Principal: "I am delighted that Jenson has delivered such a mature and measured performance this afternoon, and it is a shame that he should miss out on his second career pole by such a tiny fraction. However, the race is what counts, and I am very confident that Jenson will continue his good work and deliver another podium - hopefully it's just a matter of which step! As for Taku, I am very disappointed with his performance as he had the speed to deliver at the same level as Jenson. Having made a couple of errors in the second sector he should have consolidated the lap into what would have been a row two grid slot. Nevertheless, I fully support his brave and ambitious spirit; we just need to channel it in the right direction."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "After a good morning the qualifying session ended with very mixed results for the team. Jenson's lap was very good and we are disappointed not to have held on to pole. However it is very good to be starting tomorrow's race from the front row since it is so hard to overtake here. The drivers have been happy with the car balance all day and we are confident with our tyre choice so we are looking forward to the race. Takuma spun his car exiting the final chicane trying to make up too much time and was lucky not to hit the wall. However, he did hit the kerb hard and damaged the car. This spin has dropped him to 17th on the grid so we will have to consider our options for his race strategy tomorrow."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "What an exciting session! It was great to see so many people in with a chance for pole - us included. It was a shame for Takuma as he was obviously on an extremely quick lap but Jenson has done an excellent job. We can look forward to the race with confidence."


Giancarlo Fisichella (11th, 1:14.674): "It's been a fantastic day for me, with two perfect qualifying sessions. To take 11th place on the grid, especially with the fuel load that we were running, is really, really good. The car has been great here, with good balance and traction, and the brakes have been perfect. This has possibly been one of the most positive weekends of my season so far and I'm really looking forward to exploiting that to the full in the race and adding to our points score."

Felipe Massa (19th, No Time): "I picked up a puncture at the start of my out lap, so that was it for me. The car felt so unstable that I knew something was wrong and had to come straight into the pits at the end of the lap. I'm disappointed because the car felt really good this morning and I'm sure I would have been able to set a competitive time this afternoon. I still believe I have the chance to salvage something in the race tomorrow, however, and will be fighting very hard."

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Felipe really hoped for a lot from qualifying and was ready to push hard, but he was unfortunate enough to sustain a puncture at the beginning of his out lap. Once again we are delighted with Giancarlo's great performance. He fulfilled our expectations to the full and is very well prepared for another strong race."


Christian Klien (10th, 1:14.532): "Today has been an encouraging day for me and I am pleased with my qualifying position for tomorrow's race. My R5 has been well prepared by the team and it is feeling good around this track and the balance is also working well for me. We have had a productive weekend so far and I am very much look forward to racing here tomorrow. We have been working hard preparing our brakes for this race as it is well known that the slow corners and fast straights are very hard on them and they can become worn out. We will be looking to make the most of any overtaking opportunities and attrition that may occur on track and I am very much aiming for my first points this weekend. We have been taking steps forward all this weekend and I would like to reward the team for their hard work and support."

Mark Webber (14th, 1:15.148): "It would be good if I could start a bit higher up the grid but that's the way it goes sometimes. The car felt generally good and I was happy with the balance and set-up. I locked up slightly on corner ten which cost me some time but you have to take the rough with the smooth. The guys have been working very hard since Nurburgring in preparation for this race and I know that we are moving in the right direction. I scored two points at this race last year so I will be giving it my best shot to do the same again tomorrow. I enjoy racing here and because of the street-like circuit attrition is not unlikely so there will be opportunties to move up the grid. During our testing last week at Silverstone we worked on our starts so will be looking for a good start and our strategy should stand us in good stead for a points challenging race."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "Both sessions worked well for us this morning and I was pleased with our progress. Both Mark and Christian completed their tyre programmes, general race set-up work and their brakes and balance were looking good. Going into the first qualifying session both drivers delivered clean laps but we knew there was more to come. Christian's second qualifying was an improvement and he secured a well-deserved 10th place. I am pleased with the way that Christian has approached this weekend and his consistency throughout. Mark's final qualifying was looking good until he had a minor lock-up going into the hairpin which will have cost him a couple of places on the grid. Overall, I am satisified with our positions on the grid for tomorrow and our strategy in place. We will be looking to secure additional points tomorrow in what promises to be an exciting and competitive race."


Cristiano da Matta (12th, 1:14.851): "My lap was not great and I feel that I could have extracted another two or three tenths from the car. Having said that, we have been more concentrated on our race pace this weekend, so we did not expect to be so hot today. We maybe had a bit too much understeer in the qualifying session, but that will help conserve our rear tyres in the race, which could give us a competitive edge. The overall results reflect where we thought we would be with our strategy. We believe that the direction we have opted for is the right one and we have put our money on it paying off tomorrow."

Olivier Panis (13th, 1:14.891): "I think I did a good lap considering the strategy that we are using for tomorrow's race. It is always possible to improve by some tenths-of-a-second, but likewise, it is also easy to lose five. I actually feel really positive for the race because the tyres and the car appeared quite consistent during the long runs we completed in the practice sessions this morning. Now we simply need to wait and see where we are tomorrow in comparison with everybody else's strategy."

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "We have worked on optimising the car for its race performance tomorrow in terms of both our tyre choice and strategy. Consequently, I think we can be reasonably pleased with our qualifying positions. The car has been a little bit more difficult to drive today, but overall I think we have taken the right approach. The Michelin tyres we have selected are very consistent, so I believe we should expect to have a more consistent race pace than we have had in previous grands prix. The rate of attrition in Canada is traditionally quite high with particular stresses on the brakes and engine, so it will be a difficult race to finish. We have to look at getting both cars to the chequered flag and see if can pick up some points."


Nick Heidfeld (15th, 1:15.321): "I'm very satisfied with that lap. Driving-wise it was good and the car was also better. We have improved it significantly throughout the weekend so I'm really quite happy and I think we got the maximum out of it. Brakes and bottoming are not an issue any more as we resolved those things after yesterday morning so I think we are in good shape for the race."

Timo Glock (16th, 1:15.323): "I was really nervous on my first qualifying lap as I have no experience of the one lap system so I decided to go quite easy and just see what the car was like. This morning we had some problems with temperatures in the front tyres but this afternoon with higher track temperature the front tyres are really good and the rear became nervous so it was quite hard to drive. We changed a few little things for the second qualifying session but there was no time for a big step so I went easy again and concentrated on not crashing the car on my first qualifying. I'm not really satisfied with how it went and I think I may have been a bit too aggressive but I feel more comfortable and ready for the race than I did for qualifying so I'm really looking forward to tomorrow."

James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "It was an exciting qualifying as it often is at Montreal and a trouble-free day again in terms of our car. The track was getting quicker as it normally does here through qualifying so it was difficult given where we were. It was interesting to see that the cone that was added at the last chicane for qualifying seemed to disappear part way through the session so a number of people were driving a slightly different track than ourselves and other early runners. Timo had a difficult situation, having to come in and drive pretty much unannounced. He over-drove the car a little bit in first qualifying but improved for the second session, as he is still getting to grips with how to get the best out of new tyres."


Zsolt Baumgartner (18th, 1:17.064): "Generally, it has been a productive day and I have to thank the guys, as they put in a great effort. There was a small problem with the engine, which meant they had to change it, and then we decided overnight to go in a different direction with our tyre choice, which required a lot of alterations to the car. We spent some time in the two sessions this morning finding a good chassis balance, and we then had to make further adjustments to compensate for the higher air and track temperatures this afternoon. I was fairly happy with my final qualifying run. It's just a pity I made a mistake under braking for the last corner, though, because otherwise I could have been in the 1 min 16s. It's a pity about Gimmi's problem in qualifying, but hopefully we can still have a good race tomorrow."

Gianmaria Bruni (20th, No Time): "I set a good lap time this morning with lots of fuel on board, and was very pleased with that. Unfortunately, on my pre-qualifying out-lap, there was a fuel pressure drop as I left the pit lane and the car just stopped. The guys worked really hard to switch me to the spare car, but I just wasn't comfortable with the pedals when I went out on my qualifying lap. I therefore decided to cut the run short, as there was no point in continuing with a car I couldn't drive properly. I just hope luck is more on my side tomorrow."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "It hasn't been the most productive of days. Sadly, Gimmi's car suffered a fuel pressure problem on the out lap, which meant he had to switch to the spare car for his qualifying run. This was not correctly set up for him, and as a result, he did not complete his flying lap. Zsolt went well in the two morning sessions today, and if not for a small mistake in the final sector of his qualifying lap, he might well have split the Jordans. Overall, I think we deserved a little better result considering our performance so far this weekend."

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