FRENCH GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT

What does it all mean?

Fernando Alonso, French GP 2004

Fernando Alonso, French GP 2004 

 © The Cahier Archive

After taking pole position for the French Grand Prix Fernando Alonso said he was surprised to be where he was. He had not expected the Renault to be that competitive at Magny-Cours. Obviously the performance raised a number of questions about the performance of the Renault and the opposition. Was Alonso running lighter than the others. This is France after all and the men in the board room at Boulogne-Billancourt like to see their cars doing well in front of the home crowd. Alonso himself so he was happy but made the point that "we don't know what is going to happen tomorrow. It could be a surprise". In Formula 1 driver code these days that sounded like a man who was running less fuel than the opposition. But that is something we will only discover during the race on Sunday.

Michael Schumacher was second and reckoned that it might have been a very different story if he had not made a mistake in the final sector.

"Maybe I pushed a little too hard and lost time over the kerbs," he admitted. Maybe.

Perhaps the most unexpected performance was that of David Coulthard in his McLaren. The car is somewhat knew and may well be better than the old car but it was still quite a stretch to believe that the McLaren team could make this kind of a leap forward in such a short time with a car which is not hugely different from the problematical piece of machinery the team has struggled with so far this year. David spoke about having confidence that the team can build on the performance but it did not sound like he was that confident for Sunday. He pointed out that although the team has done hundreds of miles testing the car, it has not done a full race distance without stopping.

In some respects one might say that these were the only two times that did surprise because strip out Alonso and Coulthard and the grid had a much more familiar look to it with Schumacher a couple of tenths ahead of Jenson Button, Jarno Trulli, Juan Pablo Montoya, Takuma Sato and Marc Gene (one would normally read Ralf Schumacher). Kimi Raikkonen was ninth but made a mistake on his lap and lost time and Rubens Barrichello was out of the picture because of an hydraulic problem which meant that he missed the first qualifying run and had to run first in the final qualifying. Behind these guys were had the Toyotas and Jaguars and then in line astern Saubers, Jordans and Minardis.

Well, there's the theory anyway. With qualifying as it is these days - and for the rest of the year - we just have to guess and see if on Sunday we got the story right.


Ferrari

Michael Schumacher (2nd, 1:13.971): "Even with very little running yesterday we soon found a good base line set-up for the car this morning, so we will be in the fight tomorrow. I did not get pole for what could be a variety of factors: tyres, strategy or set-up for example, but I am on the front row at least. In qualifying I was just not quick enough in the third sector. I lost about a tenth at Turn 13 because I was pushing too hard but I lost the most time in the last two corners. Second place was not what I expected but the strategy will be very interesting tomorrow and it might well change over the 70 laps. Without the chance to do long runs on Friday, it will also be interesting to see how the tyres work over the distance. The field is much closer than in previous races, so now we must wait and see what happens."

Rubens Barrichello (10th, 1:14.478): "Everything was going well today until, after free practice, the team found a hydraulic problem on my car. The mechanics did a good job to sort out the problem, but it could not be done in time for pre-qualifying. It was hard, because it meant I was first out on track for qualifying. That meant compared to the other front runners I was penalised by the fact the grip level on the track improved every time a car went out. I'm expecting a difficult race tomorrow, starting from the fifth row. But I hope I can still get a good result."

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "The qualifying session was very closely contested, as indeed we had expected. I am sorry for what happened on Rubens' car. The fact he was unable to do pre-qualifying was definitely a handicap in performance terms. Michael fought as hard as possible for pole, losing it in the final sector of the track. We know we are up against very strong opposition, but this is only the first part of the weekend. The more important part is tomorrow afternoon's race and we are very confident in our car-engine-Bridgestone tyre package. As usual, strategy and reliability will be of fundamental importance in determining the result. Looking at our positions in both championships, our aim is to cross the finish line with as many points as possible."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Obviously we would have preferred to be on pole, but Michael is on the front row so it is not so bad. It will be a challenge tomorrow and now we will work on our strategy this evening. Our tyres look very good for the race. Of course, we are disappointed for Rubens who had a hydraulic problem, so we decided it was safer to fix it, miss the first run and ensure it was okay for qualifying and the race. His performance was compromised by not getting his run in pre-qualifying and also because the track was obviously getting quicker towards the end after he made his run. The result of this race will depend a lot on strategy and reliability."

Williams-BMW

Juan Pablo Montoya (6th, 1:14.172): "It's a shame that I couldn't again set the fastest time in qualifying, after such a good pre-qualifying lap. We solved the problems I had in this morning's free practice, changing the car quite a bit, and we went out for qualifying with the right set-up. In qualifying I was quickest in the first two sectors, but then I made a mistake because I was pushing too hard and lost the rear of my car in the second high-speed chicane and I could only set the sixth time. The positive thing is that we showed today that the pace is there and this means we should have a strong race car. Anyway, we'll see tomorrow how we are going to perform compared with everybody else."

Marc Gene (8th, 1:14.275): "Having managed to do a good job at the right moment was the most important thing. In my pre-qualifying lap I found it difficult to get suddenly used to a different fuel load and I made a mistake, but my qualifying lap was ok, even if I know I could have been a couple of tenths quicker, maybe. Anyway, that was my best lap so far this weekend! If on Wednesday somebody had told me that I would have set this time, I would have signed-up for it, without doubt! Starting from the fourth row is still a good position and I my aim for the race tomorrow is to collect as many points as possible for the team."

Sam Michael, Technical Director: "It was a disappointing qualifying session for our team as both cars had a big moment in the last sector. But our long run performance is quite strong. So we are looking forward to a strong race performance tomorrow. We didn't have any mechanical problems ant the new parts are working well."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "We cannot be satisfied because today pole position was possible. In the first qualifying session everything went perfectly for Juan Pablo, but on their second laps both the drivers lost some time in the last sector. Juan Pablo and Marc are separated by just one tenth of a second. It was a good performance by Marc too. Anyway, the lap times are quite close here with the top eleven drivers within only one second. With regards to the engines, neither of the BMW P84 experienced any problems so far."

McLaren-Mercedes

David Coulthard (3rd, 1:13.987): "I am pleased with the result; it shows that we have made progress with the car and I am happy that the hard work of the whole team is leading us in the right direction. We still have to wait for the race tomorrow to see how we compare with the fuel strategies of the opposition, but we have improved significantly."

Kimi Raikkonen (9th, 1:14.346): "Unfortunately I pushed too hard at the first corner and got a bit of understeer, which cost me some time. I tried hard to compensate for this on the rest of the lap, which resulted in a few minor mistakes costing me even more time. I think it's obvious to everybody that the car shows potential, and I feel very confident when driving it. I'm sure the car's competitiveness will become clear tomorrow."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "David's excellent grid position is a good reward for a lot of effort from the whole team. Both our chassis and engine performance have taken a positive step forward which hopefully will manifest itself in better results for the rest of the season. Kimi's enthusiasm got the better of him, but I'm sure both drivers will have the potential for a good race result tomorrow."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A good step forward today with a strong performance by David. We now know that the "B" in the revised car's name means "better". This is a good starting base for further improvements during the rest of the year. Unfortunately Kimi lost some time especially in the first sector otherwise he could have been closer to the front."

Renault

Fernando Alonso (1st, 1:13.698): "It's nice to be here! The car has been quick all weekend, and pole position gives me a solid base for tomorrow's race. I did a very good lap: the car was under-steering a bit too much at low speed, but it was very stable in the high-speed corners. I am happy to be on pole, but the main job is still to come. But obviously, from the front row, I will be racing for the win."

Jarno Trulli (5th, 1:14.070): "I made a few small mistakes on my lap, which is why I am fifth. I locked a wheel at turn 13, and the car had a bit too much oversteer at high speed. However, I am pretty pleased with how today went, and from fifth, I can fight for the podium with the strategy we have chosen."

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "In spite of yesterday's rain, the cars have been reasonably well-balanced from the start, which meant that we could concentrate more on fine-tuning this afternoon. This work has resulted in a satisfactory qualifying position: Fernando's lap was excellent, and Jarno also performed extremely well. What's more, this afternoon demonstrated exactly how exciting the current qualifying format can be and of course, we still have to learn exactly what strategy choices our rivals have made."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "We have achieved an extremely good result today, especially as we have taken pole in front of 'our' fans here in France. Yesterday, we couldn't be sure exactly how competitive we were, but a busy morning allowed us to confirm our strong form at Magny-Cours this year. Fernando completed a very good lap, while Jarno was unlucky to miss second by so small a margin: he is just one tenth of a second from the front row. Looking to tomorrow, I think we have what it takes to run a strong race, and we can justifiably hope to get two cars on the podium."

BAR-Honda

Jenson Button (4th, 1:13.995): "It was a reasonably good lap but I'm disappointed that we are outside the top three. I was struggling with oversteer prior to pre-qualifying so we made a change to the car. That didn't have the right effect during the first run so we changed again for qualifying and the balance was a lot better. The car has been working well here. Going into the race it's not 100% perfect but we are consistent and the tyres are working well, so I think we will be strong here. It was interesting to see that McLaren were so quick and with Renault up there I think everyone can look forward to an interesting race. For our part, we need both cars to finish and to score some good points if we are to continue taking the fight to Renault."

Takuma Sato (7th, 1:14.240): "We are a little disappointed not to have been slightly further up the grid but the gap between pole and myself is only 0.5 seconds, so it was very close. I lost a bit of time on my lap but the team were able to record similar times with Jenson and myself. The conditions were very similar to this morning and we were generally strong with reasonable grip. I hope to have a strong race tomorrow; it should certainly be an exciting one!"

David Richards, Team Principal: "Congratulations to Renault and Michelin on achieving pole position at their home Grand Prix. Tomorrow's grid has all the makings of an extremely exciting race, and I would go as far as to say that it has the potential to be one of the most unpredictable Grands Prix we have seen this season."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "Today's qualifying was particularly close with less than 0.1 secs covering second to fifth places. We are happy with the qualifying pace of both our cars today; after the changeable weather conditions in yesterday's running, we have had more consistent conditions today and were able to complete our planned programme. We are confident that we have a good set-up for the race and it is very important for us to finish both cars high up in the points in order to keep closing the gap to Renault."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Both drivers have done a very good job and produced clean laps. I think it will be an exciting race as the times at the front are incredibly close ? Takuma, although in seventh, is only two and a half tenths from the front row."

Sauber-Petronas

Giancarlo Fisichella (15th, 1:16.177): "I'm still not sure what happened in the final corner this morning, when my front push rod broke. We are still analysing all the data. As a result I had to go to the T-car, which had most but not all of the latest aerodynamic package, so the grip was not quite as good. It was a difficult qualifying session for us, but we did a good job with the fuel load we were carrying."

Felipe Massa (16th, 1:16.200): "We knew that qualifying here was going to be tough for us, as our tyres are always better in the race. Our grid places look not so good, but we will be a lot stronger in the race. I'm pretty happy with what I did this afternoon, especially as the track was more slippery while I was out because of the stronger wind that pushed me a little wide in the quick chicane."

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Qualifying was tough and turned out the way we expected it would here, but we know that in equally challenging circumstances tomorrow our set-up will be stronger and hope for a better deal."

Jaguar-Cosworth

Mark Webber (12th, 1:14.798): "Today has gone well for us and we are pleased with our progress. We worked through a good testing programme this morning and managed to complete a good number of laps. We spent time working on our tyres as our decision deadline had been moved to midday today. The car felt well balanced going into qualifying and I certainly gave it my all. The grip was good out there and the pace was really encouraging. I was pushing very hard in the final sector and may have lost a tenth but generally I was pleased to have secured twelfth on the grid ahead of tomorrow's race. Given our strategy going into the race I am very much looking forward to getting out on track and having a good competitive race. The team as always has been delivering good results in the garage so I would like to reward them on the track."

Christian Klien (13th, 1:15.065): "I have really enjoyed today here in Magny-Cours. The track is good fun and the team has prepared my car very well for this circuit. The balance is working well for me and I am very motivated by the progress that we have been making on track. I completed a good practice session this morning in dry conditions and this allowed us to make our tyre choice early on. Going into qualifying I felt confident with the car and I really pushed the R5 through those corners. I am satisfied with my 13th position although I will be looking to make my way up the grid tomorrow as well as aim for the chequered flag."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "Our practice session this morning was very busy for us as we worked through a full list of activities including the extra tyre testing that we needed to do ahead of our tyre choice. Together Mark and Christian completed over 400km with the R5 and experienced no reliability problems. The car suits this track and is well balanced here. Christian has been consistently improving over the course of the weekend and I am pleased to see him in 13th position just behind Mark. Mark as always has been very focused and delivered an encouraging 12th place on the grid. Our strategy for tomorrow should stand us in good stead and I will certainly be looking to Mark and Christian to make their way up the grid in search of points. The team, including Cosworth Racing, Pi Research and Michelin have all been doing an outstanding job this weekend and of course we would like to be rewarded for this with some points."

Toyota

Cristiano da Matta (11th, 1:14.553): "This weekend, we have been more competitive than I think we expected to be, but I am certainly not going to complain about that! I am happy with my qualifying lap this afternoon. The balance of the car was good, although I had a bit of understeer on my first qualifying run, which we managed to dial out for the second session. I really don't think I could have found more time from the car and even if I was holding out for a top ten result, eleventh place with our strategy puts us in good shape to pick up some points in the race."

Olivier Panis (14th, 1:15.130): "I am not particularly pleased with qualifying today. Throughout my lap, I had some bottoming and then I lost some grip in the last sector. In the end, I will start from 14th but we cannot change anything about it now. Instead, we just have to improve the car for tomorrow because it is a long and hard race here in Magny-Cours. I will continue to do my best in front of all the French spectators and hopefully our strategy will allow me to make up some ground."

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "It was a close and exciting qualifying session and I think we can be reasonably content with the outcome. Cristiano did a good lap and will line up pretty much where we expected to be on the grid. Olivier lost a bit of time in the last sector so unfortunately he will start his home race a couple of places further back. I don't think we have anything to be concerned about and we have to look to get both cars in the points tomorrow after what has been a pleasantly encouraging weekend for Toyota."

Jordan-Ford

Nick Heidfeld (17th, 1:16.807): "We made good improvements with the car after yesterday's difficulties in finding a proper balance due to the wet conditions. The car changed more than expected between qualifying sessions and although it was better, a few small adjustments we made didn't pay off as well as I thought. Still, I think the lap itself was good."

Giorgio Pantano (18th, 1:17.462): "I'm disappointed about the mistake I made at the second corner but I still tried to push very hard for the rest of the lap to stay ahead of a couple of cars. I've gone well here in the past and I feel good about the circuit. Also, the car set-up has been improving quite consistently all weekend so we'll see what happens tomorrow."

James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "We have improved the car throughout the weekend with a shorter amount of running than usual thanks to the unsettled weather we had yesterday. Both drivers are quite happy with the balance and we will have to see what unfolds in the race tomorrow. The weather is looking changeable once again so we will see how that fits in with the strategy we have planned."

Minardi-Cosworth

Gianmaria Bruni (19th, 1:17.913): "To be half-a-second off the time of the Jordan is not too bad, especially since I made a mistake in the first sector on my qualifying run. I was just trying a bit too hard and lost a couple of tenths of a second as a result. Otherwise, I was quite happy with my time. The guys did a good job sorting out a small electrical problem in the second session this morning. As a result of the time lost, though, it meant I didn't get to run with new tyres, so we went into qualifying a little bit blind, but it worked out okay in the end. I hope to have a positive race tomorrow and to take the chequered flag."

Zsolt Baumgartner (20th, 1:18.247): "Generally, I'm quite happy with our performance so far this weekend, and we made some good progress this morning. As far as qualifying was concerned, my run started very similarly to my best this morning, but then I made a mistake in the third sector and lost quite a lot of time. We have a good, consistent car with nice balance, however, and I hope we can carry this progress on with a good performance in tomorrow's race. If it rains, it will not be so bad for us, as the car performed well in the wet here on Friday. In fact, wet conditions might help us to have another race result like the one in Indianapolis, which would be great."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Both drivers put in credible performances today, with Zsolt showing good potential in this morning's second session with a 1 min 16.8 sec lap. Gimmi would undoubtedly have done the same sort of time if not for an electrical problem that cut his running short. With the team's fuel strategy in both qualifying sessions, however, it was never going to be possible to achieve those times in qualifying."

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