UNITED STATES GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT

Slightly clearer than mud

Rubens Barrichello, United States GP 2004

Rubens Barrichello, United States GP 2004 

 © The Cahier Archive

Qualifying for the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis was entertaining enough but when the dust settled the result left us wondering: what does it all mean? Things were slightly clearer than mud. Red mud. Ferrari red mud. But this time we had Rubens Barrichello on pole and Michael Schumacher second quickest. And you could analyse the whole thing however you wished. There were some (including Rubens Barrichello) would thought that the Brazilian had made a big leap forward in performance by driving the car differently; there were some who believe that Ferrari would let Rubens win a race just to stop criticism that Ferrari never lets Rubens win. Ross Brawn said that the two men had different strategies and would be racing all the way to the flag.

"They can race freely," he said. "The strategies will be open between the two drivers. They will each know what the other is doing and apart from making sure that they do not knock each other off, it looks like we're going to have a good race."

If one throws away the conspiracy theories and the strange tale of Rubens's sudden leap forward, the question was who was running on which strategy. The computers indicated that a two-stop race was pretty much the same as a three-stop race but that is in a perfect would. The big issue was traffic and the danger was that the three-stoppers would get stuck behind the two-stoppers in the middle of the race. Could it be that Michael was going to go for two stops and Rubens for three? We didn't know. That would explain the difference in times based on fuel. Or was it, as Michael said, just a question of set-up. The Indianapolis track is a curious one because the front straight is all about sheer horsepower but the infield section requires downforce. The drivers must trade one off against the other and they come up with different compromises. Having speed in the infield might be good for qualifying but speed on the straight is better for the race because without top speed there is no overtaking on Sunday. Thus trying to analyse what we saw in qualifying was virtually impossible. One can argue with great conviction that Rubens had a better car in the infield but was slower in the fast sectors but when you looked at the top speeds on the main straight Michael was slower.

The truth therefore is that we will find out nothing about what happened in qualifying until we are halfway through the race. Anyway, with Michael Schumacher on the front row you would be an idiot to bet against the man who has won seven of the eight races.

Was there any hope of a real BAR-Honda challenge? Maybe. In the final practice session on Saturday morning Jenson Button put his BAR-Honda to the top of the timesheets with a lap that was just a hint short of the first 1m09s lap of The Brickyard. The two BAR-Hondas were both good in the infield and not so good on the straights but the logic of this was not clear. However if a team adopts a defensive strategy designed to hold position rather than attack (and at the moment there are several that might) such things do make sense but not for BAR. Perhaps then the team guessed what Ferrari might do and found that they had put a little too much downforce on the car. Such is the way of F1 these days. It is a bit like a round of blind bidding. Everyone puts their settings on the cars and then they all discover what the others have done. And then they are stuck with it for the rest of the weekend.

The team-by-team grid featured Williams on row three with Montoya beating Ralf Schumacher by a tiny margin.

"I am a bit disappointed," admitted Montoya. "There is more in the car than fifth place. But we have a good race car and starting on the third row is promising."

The fourth row featured Kimi Raikkonen and Olivier Panis. Raikkonen has run light in all the recent races (although the team does not like being accused of showboating) and it is safe to assume that seventh on the grid was a lightweight performance from the Finn. David Coulthard said he would have been higher up the grid if he had not got out of shape in one of the corners.

"A lot depends on track temperature," said DC, suggesting that McLaren must be using the softer options and going for more stops.

The Toyota effort was not unexpected given the horsepower of the V10s from Cologne. But what would the race pace be like. Two stops seemed to be better than three with Panis eighth and Da Matta 11th.

Ninth and 10th were Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. Renault was the only team to have a major problem in qualifying with Jarno Trulli unable to set a lap time because of what seemed to be a steering wheel problem which meant that Jarno could not select first gear. He was push-started away by the Renault mechanics but the problem persisted and Jarno headed into pitlane at the end of the lap. He would start from the back. Alonso's pace down the straight underlined that the cars still lack horsepower and there did not seem much likelihood of Renault doing anything other than trying to pick up points on race day.

"This weekend," admitted Renault's Denis Chevrier, "we are outsiders rather than direct challengers."

For Jaguar 10th and 13th was pretty much business as usual. Webber lost time on Saturday morning when he spun off but he recovered well and was delighted to have a very consistent car in long runs. This suggested that the Australian would be running a two-stop strategy. Christian Klien was disappointed and indicated that he was keen to make a good start, an indication (perhaps) that he was planning a three-stop race.

The Saubers were 14th and 15th which was pretty disappointing although a two-stop race looked likely.

Jordan and Minardi followed through as usual with Nick Heidfeld just outdoing the returning Giorgio Pantano and Gianmaria Bruni faster than Zsolt Baumgartner.


Ferrari

Rubens Barrichello (1st, 1:10.223): "It is great to take pole here at Indy where there were so many Brazilians cheering, I could even hear them in the cockpit. The car has been good all weekend, although I think Michael made a bit more ?progress ?than ?me ?today. ?Before ?pre-qualifying, ?we ?made ?a ?small ?change ?to ?my ?car ?that ?was ?an improvement. In the first sector, the car did not feel so good but then it improved in the second sector, which is important, as it is the longest. I think I am driving better now than at any point this season. Although I am naturally a right foot braker, I have been using my left also now and like a footballer who can score with both feet has an advantage, it means my driving has improved. Now I am looking forward to having a great race tomorrow."

Michael Schumacher (2nd, 1:10.400): "I cannot complain, because I am on the front row with my team-mate alongside me, so we have to be happy with that. Of course I would prefer to be first, but Rubens has done a better job than me ?and ?to ?be ?honest ?I ?expected ?to ?be ?further ?back. ?I ?lost ?the ?lap ?in ?the ?second ?sector ?where the car was sliding around too much, especially in a couple of corners, where Rubens obviously found a better solution than me, But that is our strength in that we always push each other and that means we have to give 100% all the time. I will still be aiming for the win tomorrow and I expect an interesting fight between us and also with whoever else comes along."

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "It will be nice to see an all-red front row on the grid tomorrow, here in the United States which is Ferrari's biggest market. The cars worked very well and the Bridgestones proved to be excellent over a single lap. Now we come to the most important part of the weekend. A 73 lap race on the Indianapolis circuit which is ?very ?hard ?on ?engines ?is ?very ?difficult. ?As ?usual, ?the ?same ?parameters ?of ?reliability, ?strategy ?and ?tyre performance will be the key factors for everyone."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "We are very happy to have taken the two top spots on the grid. Barrichello's pole is not at all surprising for us. Rubens has been very strong right from the start of the weekend and he did a great lap in qualifying. In some races in this first part of the season, he had some hard times, but now he is on great form. For his part, Michael made a couple of mistakes in this second sector and this probably explains the result. Bridgestone has given us an excellent tyre for this race and if we get a good start, everything is in place for us to get a good result."

Williams-BMW

Juan Pablo Montoya (5th, 1:11.062): "I am a little bit disappointed with this result, because I believe there's more in the car than fifth position. In my pre-qualifying and qualifying laps the balance of my car wasn't perfect and this cost both Ralf and myself a better grid position. . But all in all I believe we have a good race car and starting from the third row is still promising. I would really like to give all the Colombian fans which have come here to support me, something to cheer about."

Ralf Schumacher (6th, 1:11.106): "It was a decent qualifying, nothing special really, I would say I drove a reasonable lap. It looked a bit better for us in pre-qualifying, but still I had some problems with the balance of my car, which has been the case?all weekend. The continuously changing wind and the dust are obviously not helping the situation, but then it's the same for everyone. Let's wait and see what the race brings."

Sam Michael, Technical Director: "You can always hope for a better result, but what we have got is not a bad position from which to start the race. Both cars have a good race set-up and we are confident that we can race competitively here. The rear wing levels at Indy?are always a compromise between the infield section where high downforce is needed and the straight where low drag is required."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "The result of the qualifying remained open until the very last driver had completed his lap. Our drivers will now start side by side from the third row. Both were not a hundred percent happy with the balance of their cars, but still they feel well prepared for the race. We have not experienced any reliability problems so far. As usual in Indy, the crowd for the Saturday practice sessions is very impressive. I think we can look forward to a great race day."

McLaren-Mercedes

Kimi Raikkonen (7th, 1:11.137): "We did better than expected as the car has been quite difficult to handle so far this weekend. However we managed to find a good balance and an overall improvement in time for qualifying, which is what it's all about, so overall I'm pleased. It will be a difficult race tomorrow, but we have a strong strategy and will do our best, so hopefully we will be reliable and score some points."

David Coulthard (12th, 1:12.026): "I was reasonable happy with the balance of the car in the first run. We didn't make any changes between sessions, so I was a little bit surprised when the car felt different. I got out of shape in the corners and used more traction control which just soaks up the time. It will be a tough race tomorrow, and a lot will depend on track temperature."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "Whilst our forward progress is somewhat slow we are nevertheless moving forward. We feel that we have a good race strategy, which could give us a few more points."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A good lap by Kimi and a reasonable basis for the race. The gap between fifth and ninth is just over a tenth of a second, so it will be interesting to see tomorrow's strategies."

Renault

Fernando Alonso (9th, 1:11.185): "We have improved the car a lot since yesterday, and the engineers have done a great job to give us a much more competitive car. I didn't have any problems on my lap, and made no mistakes; in fact, I am feeling quite confident for tomorrow. I am only starting from ninth, but the times are very close and given our fuel load, I think we are on a good strategy. The tyres are working well, so everything is in place for a strong race."

Jarno Trulli (20th, No Time): "Naturally, I'm extremely disappointed. I had trouble exiting the garage because first gear would not engage, and then the car would not change gear properly on my lap; at this time, we think the problem was caused by the steering wheel. Looking ahead, it will be tough race tomorrow but we can still look to score points."

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "The times are extremely tight, with only 12 hundredths of a second separating 5th and 9th positions. Unfortunately for Fernando, he has found himself at the back of this group, but we will need to watch the race and our rivals' strategies unfold in order to judge exactly what this signifies. We have worked steadily on the balance of the cars and while it will never be perfect on this kind of circuit, I think we are in reasonable shape for the race. Jarno suffered what we currently believe to have been a steering wheel problem that prevented his car from shifting gears correctly. He only just got out of the pits in time, and then ran wide in Turn 1 when his car remained in top gear."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "This weekend, we have to consider ourselves as outsiders rather than direct challengers. However, nothing is out of the question from ninth on the grid; the times are very close, and we will need to see how the race develops and which strategies are being employed. Of course, it will be a difficult challenge, but there is every reason for us to aim for a top five position at the end of the race."

BAR-Honda

Takuma Sato (3rd, 1:10.601): "I'm pleased with third on the grid for tomorrow. It was a shame that we couldn't reach the Ferraris as we were looking good in practice this morning. I'll settle for third and an all-B.A.R second row is great for the team. It was a little bit gusty out there so maybe our lap time was affected by that. Obviously I have a great opportunity for tomorrow which I intend to make the most of. My first priority is to finish the race but I would really like to finish it at least where I started. I'm really looking good for tomorrow's race and fighting for my first podium."

Jenson Button (4th, 1:10.820): "I wasn't very happy when I got out of the car but fourth is better than I thought we were going to end up. When Taku did his first run, obviously he was running after me when the circuit was cleaner and he had more wing than me, so we tried that setting and it was pretty awful actually. Loads of oversteer. In hindsight I wish we had kept the car as it was. It's difficult when you are going out third in for the first run to know what to do with the balance, so I thought we would have learnt more about the conditions from Taku's run but obviously we didn't and I had a lot of oversteer. It should be a good race however and it's great that both Taku and I will line up together tomorrow."

David Richards, Team Principal: "To have both cars on the second row is a great achievement for the team; and I am pleased that Taku has re-focused his efforts to such good effect. To be qualifying so well at the home of American motorsport is particularly satisfying, coming as it does just a month after Honda swept the board at the "Indy 500". We are in good shape for the race tomorrow, and of course it would be a dream come true if we could replicate Honda's recent victory."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "We are happy to have both cars on the second row of the grid for tomorrow's race. Conditions for qualifying were quite difficult as the wind got up and there was a certain amount of luck whether a driver got calm or gusty conditions. Jenson was unlucky to get a particularly strong gusts during his lap and lost time through the middle part of the lap but was still able to put in a good time to get on the second row. Takuma in slightly better conditions had a much more consistent lap, taking the fastest sector two to get his third top-three qualifying position of the year. "Both of the morning practice sessions went well for us and were able to complete our work on race set-up without problems. The car has been good on new or old tyres so we are happy that we have a good strategy and position for tomorrow's race"

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "I am happy with that. Both drivers have done exactly what was asked of them and I think we should be in for a strong race tomorrow."

Sauber-Petronas

Giancarlo Fisichella (14th, 1:12.470): "We suffered with lack of rear-end grip in qualifying, which we expected after yesterday. Although my lap today was not perfect, I know we have a good race strategy. In other races we have had good race pace and proved that we can do well, so I'll be pushing hard again tomorrow."

Felipe Massa (15th, 1:12.721): "Considering the performance over the whole weekend I think I had a reasonable lap. The race will be very tough for us, but others have also been and we still scored points in them, which of course is always our goal."

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "We know that our cars and drivers are better than their grid positions suggest, and the time difference to our competitors in qualifying is vexing."

Jaguar-Cosworth

Mark Webber (10th, 1:11.286): "My first practice session this morning was productive and the car was feeling good. The second session was however, cut short when I braked late on corner six and ended up in the gravel. The damage was not too extensive and the team did a great job making the repairs in time for my qualifying session this afternoon. Going into this afternoon's qualifying session I was confident that the car was well set-up and balanced. I am really pleased with my qualifying lap. It felt good out there and the car is in good shape. You have to be careful to control your agression here as pushing too hard only slows you down. The track temperature was also increasing this afternoon and with that the grip was decreasing. The balance in particular is good on the long runs and I am in looking forward to the race. We believe we have a good strategy in place and we are in a points fighting position."

Christian Klien (13th, 1:12.170): "I was enjoying my practice sessions this morning and the car's pace was improving all the time. Going into qualifying my car was well set-up and the balance feels good. My first qualifying sector was encouraging and an accurate reflection of the car's pace. My final qualifying was not perhaps as good as I would have liked and slightly slower than the first but I am still pleased with my 13th position. I will be looking to make a good start and given our strategy going into tomorrow I feel that we are in a good situation. I will certainly be doing what I can to score points and I am really excited about competing in my first US race here in Indianapolis tomorrow."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "We spent this morning working on balance and also on mechanical and aerodynamic work. Both Mark and Christian did some good work in the car and it was only Mark's incident in the second session this morning that took us away from our planned programme. Mark seemed to brake slightly too late into corner six and it caused him to go off-track, hitting the front of the car and damaging the suspension. The guys did a great repair job and Mark kept the same car for qualifying. The qualifying session was good for us and I am pleased with our grid positions for tomorrow's race. Christian has been gradually improving all weekend and I am looking forward to watching the race tomorrow and seeing how we do. We have been working on our strategy over the weekend and I very much hope that it will stand us in good stead for a points finish here tomorrow."

Toyota

Olivier Panis (8th, 1:11.167): "During yesterday's practice sessions, we set a solid base for the weekend gathering valuable data about the tyres. In today's sessions I felt comfortable in the car and my qualifying lap went well. I am quite happy with my starting position for the race and from eighth on the grid, it is certainly a realistic target to score points tomorrow. We are getting the full potential out of the TF104 and everyone continues to do a great job. On the one hand, to be only one-tenth from the top five is a shame, but on the other, it shows the positive development of the entire team."

Cristiano da Matta (11th, 1:11.691): "I was expecting more from qualifying today based on our performance in the practice. I suffered with less grip than in the previous sessions, which prevented me from attacking as much as I have been able to throughout the weekend. Nevertheless, we have demonstrated more competitiveness at this track than at any other all season, so I remain optimistic for the race."

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "Although this is one of our best qualifying performances of the year so far, we are all a little bit disappointed that we were unable to get both cars in the top ten and higher up the grid. It is an extremely tight field with only one-tenth-of-a-second separating us from a top five result. Both drivers were unhappy with the grip levels in the second session, which we will look into, but overall we have a competitive package for the race, so we have to target points for both."

Jordan-Ford

Nick Heidfeld (16th, 1:13.147): "We have struggled slightly with our car balance here for some reason, although we have improved it over the weekend so far thanks to the engineers' hard work. During qualifying it was a little bit difficult as the car was nervous to drive. It has been cooler today which has suited us a bit better than yesterday's conditions and it will be interesting to see what happens in the race tomorrow.?

Giorgio Pantano (17th, 1:13.375): "I'm pretty happy with my qualifying although I know I made a little mistake on corners 7 and 8. I had a car problem this morning and lost a little bit of time because of that, which hurts a little bit as I am learning the track and every lap is valuable. I'm happy still, because I'm not far away from my team mate Nick and that's a promising position for having a good race.?

James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "We had a solid day which was trouble free other than a small transmission problem for Giorgio during the morning practice, which the mechanics worked swiftly to fix so he could participate in the second session. The race tomorrow will be about how the tyres hold out for people on two stops versus those on short three stops. How this transpires will be somewhat governed by the track temperatures on the day.?

Minardi-Cosworth

Gianmaria Bruni (18th, 1:14.010): "This morning, in the first practice session, we got a good balance in the car, but then in the final session, the car developed a lot of oversteer, possibly because the track temperature went up quite a bit, affecting the grip. In my qualifying run, the first sector was not bad, but then I struggled with traction on the infield section. Anyway, I'm looking forward to the race tomorrow, as we are reasonably close to our nearest rivals in terms of lap times. It should be interesting."

Zsolt Baumgartner (19th, 1:14.812): "My best time this morning was good, and it's just a shame I couldn't repeat it this afternoon in qualifying. I made a couple of mistakes on the final run and the car also developed quite a bit of oversteer. I'd like to thank all the guys, who have put in a lot of effort this weekend. I think it's going to be a difficult race tomorrow, but I'll try to reward them with a good result."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Whilst we are not happy to be starting P18 and P19 in tomorrow's United States Grand Prix, overall, our performance today is as good as could be expected and our times respectable given the current circumstances. We now look forward to tomorrow's race, where our goal will clearly be to get two cars to the finish."

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