3-2-1 lift-off!

Kimi Raikkonen, British GP 2004

Kimi Raikkonen, British GP 2004 

 © The Cahier Archive

Qualifying for the British Grand Prix was unusual for a number of reasons. The most obvious one was that for the first half of the session the drivers were not trying to be fastest. In fact they were lifting off. There was a certain amount of subtlety involved at the start of the session with Michael Schumacher having a deliberate spin and then Rubens Barrichello going wide at Vale. The drivers that followed were less subtle and almost all of them simply lifted off in the final sector and cruised across the start-finish line at a slow enough pace to get themselves an early run in the final session, most teams having concluded that it would rain before the end of the final qualifying session.

"It seemed a nicer way of doing it than just going slowly," said Rubens later. "I don't see anything wrong with what I and many others did. It is the result of the qualifying format. In a situation like this you have to be selfish and think of your strategy. We had a plan to slow down, but what's the point of showing people that you are going slower going up to the line? At least we did it in a good way."

The whole thing was daft and, of course, the crowd was not happy. You would not be happy if you had paid the sums that people pay for tickets and seen this kind of a show, but there really was no way around the problem. The F1 world has been messing about with qualifying for a while now and this will no doubt bring in some other panic measure to try to solve a problem which we have also known might appear one day. Just as at Indianapolis we always knew that eventually a car would break and go into the wall on the last corner, so we knew that there was always the potential for a farce. And that is what we got for the first part of the session. Most of the TV viewers in the world did not see this as the pre-qualifying session is no longer broadcast live but that is really not the point. F1 has failed its fans at the race track.

The actual qualifying session was not bad at all with most of the fast men going out early on in the session and then a surprise as Kimi Raikkonen went for pole in his McLaren and got it. The rains held off, even if the clouds looked threatening. Jarno Trulli tried to grab pole for Renault and failed and the only hope was that local hero Jenson Button would do the business in the final run of the day. For much of the lap it looked quite good but in the final corners the BAR-Honda faltered. Pole position had gone to a McLaren.

Now let us look at that for a moment: the MP4-19B is obviously a better car than the MP4-19. The aerodynamics are better and so the car is less sensitive and the rear suspension has been twiddled with as well. The car has lost some of its vices and the drivers can now extract more. But no-one is brave enough to claim that this is a winning car. The team has adopted strategies in recent weeks that show the car in a good light and one is always a little suspicious that the McLarens are running lighter than the others. Having said all that, the team has done a good job.

"We couldn't expect to come out fastest today," said Norbert Haug. But they had. And good on them. The big teams rarely stay down for long. However McLaren fans should keep their enthusiasm under control. This is not going to happen every week.

Alongside Kimi on the front row would be Rubens Barrichello and of course that was no big surprise there because Ferrari still has the dominant car (and don't forget that on Sunday!). From the start of practice Rubens seemed to have his car better dialled into the circuit than Michael Schumacher and that is how it ended up with Michael being bounced back to fourth on the grid by Button's final run. Michael did not seem to be too bothered. The race is when the real work needs to be done and Michael was obviously confident that it would all come right in the end.

Button's lap was a juggling job because Jenson was not happy with the car but he could not be unhappy with third. Takuma Sato ended up eighth which was not great.

Renault was in trouble even before the qualifying began because Fernando Alonso had lost an engine and so was facing a drop of 10 places on the grid. So his sixth fastest time ended up being 16th. Jarno Trulli was fifth which meant that there was potential for something good on Sunday with Renault's magic start system likely to give him an advantage.

The second McLaren was sixth and David Coulthard was disappointed because of a mistake at Becketts. He would be stronger in the race but starting too far back is never very helpful.

The Williams team seemed to be all at sea, with Juan Pablo Montoya seventh and Marc Gene 11th, both men complaining about the car being nervous and difficult to predict. Maybe it was the wind and maybe the track did get faster during the session but one way or another Williams ended up with another lacklustre result.

Mark Webber was ninth with Christian Klien 14th and that was about normal for Jaguar. Sauber had a bitter-sweet time with Felipe Massa 10th but Giancarlo Fisichella down at the back because of an engine problem which made the team decide to not even bother with qualifying.

Massa was a little unhappy because on his flying lap he found Olivier Panis trolling around on his way back to the pits, saving fuel, and this lost Felipe time. Even the normally placid Peter Sauber was angry about it, calling Panis's behaviour "incomprehensible".

What was obscured in all of this was that Sauber had some new rear bodywork and it is good.

Panis was 12th quickest but after the session his time was taken away by the stewards and Olivier ended up 19th, which was a bit tough given that he had not been warned about Massa by the team. Having said that they invented the rear view mirror for some purpose and Olivier might have used his. Cristiano da Matta ended up 12th on the grid when both Alonso and Panis were pushed down the grid but he was clearly struggling. Mike Gascoyne was hugely irritated by it all.

"I hope the crowd was entertained by the second qualifying session because the first one was a disgrace in front the huge numbers of people who have turned up at Silverstone today," he said. "It is unbelievable that the fans are let down in such a way and then such a penalty was given to one of the few drivers who pushed hard and entertained the crowds in both sessions."

Mike had a point.

The Jordans and Minardis were one expects to find them. No-one was happy.

After qualifying Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was running around trying to sort out a new way to qualify (again), recognizing that this is not the way to keep people happy.

Let us hope that the race is better.


Rubens Barrichello (2nd, 1:18.305): "I did run wide deliberately at Vale to get a slower time in pre-qualifying. It seemed a nicer way of doing it than just going slowly. I don't see anything wrong with what I and many other drivers did. It is the result of the qualifying format. In a situation like this you have to be selfish and think of your strategy. I think we need to make the format better. I am happy with my second place, although my car started to slide in the final sector which is where I lost pole. I think I can have a very strong race as the car is good on full tanks and the Bridgestone tyres are performing well."

Michael Schumacher (4th, 1:18.710): "It was an interesting session and for strategic reasons we chose not to look too good in pre-qualifying. However, in qualifying the conditions remained much the same and I had a good lap. Of course, being second and fourth is not the ideal situation, but we will have to wait for the race to see how things work out. We know it is a long race tomorrow and our car and Bridgestone tyres are good over a race distance. Actually we were right about the rain, but the circuit seemed to be in the wrong place!"

Jean Todt, Team Principal: "Pre-qualifying was affected by the weather forecast, in so much as we were expecting rain that did not come in the end. As expected, qualifying itself was a close fight. We are satisfied with the performance of our Bridgestone tyres and of our cars, with one on the front row and the other on the second. When looking at today's result, a question mark hangs over the levels of fuel of the various cars. The weather is another uncertain factor for tomorrow. Our primary aim will be to pick up important points for both championships."

Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Our weather forecast predicted rain for the second half of the qualifying session, therefore we did not want to risk being among the last out on track. We tried to do it in such a way that the other teams would not understand our intentions, but they did the same thing anyway. I think we have a slight tyre performance advantage over a distance and so we will keep that in mind as we work on tomorrow's race. I think we will see a very close and exciting race, especially as the forecast is for unsettled weather."


Juan Pablo Montoya (8th, 1:19.378): "Before starting my final qualifying lap, I saw Marc had a very nervous car and I was expecting the same. In fact, I realised immediately - at turn one - that my car was also difficult to drive and I decided to be a bit careful. With such inconsistent wind conditions, it's very difficult to predict what the car is going to do. I am a bit disappointed with my qualifying position, of course, because prior to the qualifying session both Marc and I had done a good job and had a very good balanced car, but despite this afternoon's conclusion, I believe we've got a very good race car and we can realistically aim for a good finish."

Marc Gene (13th, 1:20.335): "The pre-qualifying session was a bit unusual today, but what counts is the final qualifying result, but I didn't have a good lap at all. I was quite quick in this morning's practice and I was confident I could achieve a good grid position in qualifying. However, this afternoon my car was much more difficult to drive than I anticipated. I could feel it was very windy and I could barely keep the car on the track - the weather conditions had changed a lot from this morning."

Sam Michael, Technical Director: "Like other teams, we also took it easy in the pre-qualifying session in order to avoid our drivers having to qualify later in the session as there was the risk of rain. However, the rain did not materialise, although it did get windy in the middle of the second session. Obviously the pace of the car is not strong enough in qualifying at the moment, but the practice pace looked encouraging. We will see what we can do for tomorrow in order to pick up some points in the race."

Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Today, qualifying was a gamble. On the one hand it's clear that the track got quicker with every car. On the other hand, rain was expected for the second part of the session. As our weather prediction didn't materialise, our drivers didn't have a chance to compete for a front grid slot due running early in the session. We had no technical problem with the cars."


Kimi Raikkonen (1st, 1:18.233): "We ran the MP4-19B for the first time during a test here at Silverstone six weeks ago and the car has continued to improve and now it has started to show its real potential. The balance has been very good throughout the weekend, and we should have a strong car for tomorrow's race. We have had a disappointing first half of this season, but the entire team has worked extremely hard to regain competitiveness. This pole position is a reward for all their efforts and late nights."

David Coulthard (7th, 1:19.148): "It was not an easy qualifying due to the windy conditions. I lost a lot of time through Becketts and as a result I was not quick in the middle sector. We have chosen the right tyres, but as this is a high-speed circuit where you need a good result in qualifying and I'm a little disappointed with my performance. However, I will go flat out tomorrow and do my very best to score as many points a possible."

Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "It goes without saying that we are delighted with Kimi's pole position and the fact that both drivers have been consistently quick in all practice sessions. Today's result is such a nice reward for everybody in the team who has worked so hard to re- establish our competitiveness in the critical areas of chassis and engine. As you would expect we will now focus on the race tomorrow."

Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A perfect outcome of today's qualifying with Kimi's pole position. He was really quick in the second and third sectors, which was where he secured his pole. We knew that we had worked in the right direction, but we couldn't expect to come out fastest today. I want to thank Kimi and the whole team for all their efforts to make our technical package much more competitive than it was a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately David didn't find the perfect setup, but to start from the third row is still a good basis for the race."


Jarno Trulli (5th, 1:18.715): "I did my best on the lap: the car was well balanced, but a lost some time in the first sector through Becketts. After that though, I managed to claw some time back in the second, and then did very well in the third sector. It was windy, but I don't think it was much different for me than the other drivers. I am pleased with fifth, and we now need to say how the strategies play out tomorrow."

Fernando Alonso (6th, 1:18.811): "It was a day of two halves for me. My problem this morning was bad luck and it is disappointing, but I can't do anything about it now. In terms of qualifying, I found the wind very difficult and the car balance was changing in every corner, but I also knew that with the grid penalty, I really had to push. I didn't leave any margin for error, and took quite a lot of risks - it would have been easy to make a mistake. Tomorrow, I think I will need some unusual incident in the race or unpredictable weather to finish high up, but I will still be looking to score points."

Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "Undoubtedly, there will be much discussion about what happened in the first qualifying session, but it should come as a surprise to no-one. The rules have been like this for a long time, and the consequences were understood by the teams when they were first published. It only goes to reinforce our view that there is nothing wrong with single lap qualifying, but that the first session is unnecessary. Both drivers did excellent qualifying laps with no major problems. However, as is usual for Silverstone, the variable wind kept the drivers on their toes throughout. It is unfortunate Fernando must drop ten spots after his problem this morning, but we know he will race strongly from wherever he is on the grid."

Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "In terms of pure performance, we are where we expected to be. But we are nonetheless disappointed to have suffered our first engine problem of the year, which will cost Fernando ten grid positions. Fortunately, our initial analysis suggests that the failure, which was located in the upper engine, was an isolated incident rather than a cause for general concern. However, Jarno's strong fifth position means we can realistically hope to finish on the podium tomorrow."


Jenson Button (3rd, 1:18.580): "It's good to qualify third for our home race. Obviously we would have liked to have been on pole here but third is a good position to start the race from. As is often the case, it's difficult to know what strategies everyone else is running, so I'm quite pleased to be where we are. The car has been handling much better than yesterday. We're not 100% happy with it after all the positive testing we have done here, but I think strategy-wise we're in good shape for the race. Today has been a tough one to call weather-wise and I think it will be the case again tomorrow. My target now is a podium and playing my part in a solid team result in front of our home crowd."

Takuma Sato (9th, 1:19.688): "I feel that we have a good strategy for tomorrow so I'm reasonably happy with my lap time. Everybody was gambling with the weather in pre-qualifying and we were hoping that it would pay off in the final run. Silverstone is a circuit where I have many memories from my Junior Formula days, so I would really like to have a strong race tomorrow. However, the changeable weather will make for an interesting race and of course we hope that we can make the best of our strategy in front of the team's home crowd."

David Richards, Team Principal: "The first session was rather confusing due to some unusual tactics created by the uncertainty around the weather conditions expected for the second session. However, we were confident with the information we received from our helicopter, which was flying upwind, allowing Jenson to run at full pace in the first session and ensuring an optimum strategy for the race. Both drivers are in a position to score good points tomorrow and with changeable weather forecast for the race, we must ensure we make the most of every opportunity."

Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "This was an unusual qualifying with many teams responding to the threat of rain during the second qualifying session by running deliberately slow laps in the first session. However as our information promised, the rain held off and Jenson was able to run last in second qualifying as planned. A small mistake in the complex lost Jenson a small amount of time but it was still good enough for third. With Takuma in eighth place we have both cars in good positions for tomorrow's race, for which there is a high chance of rain. In response to yesterday's difficulties, we made set-up and aerodynamic changes overnight, and despite deliberately limiting our running, found some good improvements. We now look forward to tomorrow's race."

Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "It was an interesting day, clearly all the teams had slightly different ideas about what was going to happen with the weather. I think we should go well tomorrow - we certainly want to put on a good show at one of our home GPs."


Felipe Massa (11th, 1:20.202): "It's unbelievable! I have told Panis that I cannot understand what he was doing. He must have seen me, and even if he didn't, he had to know at the speed he was going that another car would be coming up behind him soon. The team should have been telling him. Fine, if you are going slowly to save fuel, brake on the straight and keep out of the way. He didn't do that. He was in the way, and he braked on my line. Without that I could have been ninth. I'm very disappointed because the car was very good today, and the balance was not too bad. It's really not fair."

Giancarlo Fisichella (20th, No Time): "We elected to stay in the pits because of my engine penalty, saving the tyres and the fuel. If I had a choice for tomorrow, I'd like it to rain!"

Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "There was no point in sending Giancarlo out this afternoon as he had been given a 10 grid-place penalty because of his engine change yesterday. It made more sense to preserve his tyres and start at the back. Felipe drove a great qualifying lap but unfortunately he lost his ninth place by Olivier Panis's incomprehensible behaviour. That handed the advantage to Mark Webber, who is in front of us. However, during the last two days we have confirmed that our new rear bodywork has made a considerable improvement to the performance of the C23."


Mark Webber (10th, 1:20.004): "I am pleased with my qualifying time today and my grid position for tomorrow's race. The car is feeling good around here and the team has done an excellent job in preparing the R5. There was a small amount of oversteer on corners 11 and 12 but generally my lap was good and error free. The wind always plays a part here and I could feel it starting to pick up between the two sessions but everyone is in the same boat so we just have to make do with what we get weather wise. We have a good strategy in place tomorrow and I am looking forward to starting the race. I like racing here and I think that we will have a good battle ahead of us."

Christian Klien (15th, 1:21.559): "This morning was a good practice session for us as we worked hard on our balance and general set-up of the car ahead of qualifying. Going into qualifying this afternoon I went slow in the first session to make sure that I could go out early in the second session and avoid any potential rain. My qualifying lap was not great for me and I am slightly disappointed with my time. I really pushed too hard and when you push too hard it costs you time, I also made a couple of minor errors all of which cost me some tenths. We have been working hard on our race strategy so I will be doing what I can tomorrow to move up the grid and race for points at the team's home Grand Prix."

Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "The team has been working very well this weekend and we have been reliable on track. We focused on our set-up and balance in this morning's practice session and we were very much concentrating on both a good qualifying and a good race strategy, these need to work hand in hand in order to score points. The wind was picking up as we went into this afternoon's session and although this does have an effect on the balance of the car, the car remained balanced during long runs in the morning sessions. Mark drove an impressive clean lap this afternoon and I am pleased with his ninth grid place. Christian failed to optimise on his performance and his fourteenth place on the grid is not representative of his overall pace this weekend. It's our home race so we will be looking to give the crowds something to cheer about tomorrow."


Olivier Panis (12th, 1:20.335): "I am obviously very disappointed and upset that my time in qualifying was cancelled. I pushed very hard and did the best that I could with the car. With the strategy we have in place for tomorrow, I think we performed well. A mistake in communication from the team meant that I only saw Massa late, but I immediately moved over and offline. I am sorry for the Sauber team because it was not intentional and I did all I could not to impede his lap. I am very annoyed at the decision from the stewards. Tomorrow's race will now be very hard, but I will push all the way as I always do."

Cristiano da Matta (14th, 1:20.545): "I think we should be quite content with the results of my qualifying today. The pace we had this afternoon is more or less what we have had all weekend. I had a bit more understeer and struggled more on the slower speed parts of the track, but on the other hand, the car handled better on the high speed compared to this morning's practice. The weather in Britain is very changeable and unpredictable, but I hope it stays dry for the race. If we have some luck, I think we could pick up a couple of points."

Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "The team has to apologise to Olivier for not ensuring that he was fully informed of Massa's position on the track, however he immediately moved offline and having reviewed the evidence in the stewards meeting we were sure that Massa could take the racing line and not be held up in any way. We are therefore very disappointed in the stewards' decision to disallow Olivier's time and we feel that the penalty is both too harsh and undeserved. I personally think this is true given what happened in the first qualifying session where teams clearly deceived the public by not ensuring their drivers pushed to the limit. I hope the crowd was entertained by the second qualifying session because the first one was a disgrace in front the huge numbers of people who have turned up at Silverstone today. It is unbelievable that the fans are let down in such a way and then such a penalty was given to one of the few drivers who pushed hard and entertained the crowds in both qualifying sessi I only hope Olivier can have a good race and score points tomorrow to make up for what was an extremely disappointing decision."

Tsutomu Tomita, Team Principal: "On behalf of all the Panasonic Toyota Racing team, I would like to express our sorrow to learn of the recent and unexpected death of John Walton. We offer our condolences and sincere sympathy to the entire Minardi team and John's family at this traumatic time."


Giorgio Pantano (16th, 1:22.458): "I'm kind of pleased with my lap but I made a mistake in the second sector at Abbey and if it wasn't for that I would have been a bit quicker. I was slightly nervous about the weather before going out as I went out late and we were concerned about rain - but I was fortunate. We have done quite a lot of testing here so I'm confident with the track and also with the car. Tomorrow we have a good set-up for the race, I think. It would be good for the team and the fans if we got a good result here. Last night I went to the Jordan fan village at the factory and it was fantastic to see how much support we have and I really enjoyed meeting fans. I'm going back for another quick visit this evening."

Nick Heidfeld (17th, 1:22.677): "I'm not really satisfied with my lap: I got some graining on the tyres towards the end and therefore missed the apex on one of the corners, losing quite a bit of lap time. Our forecast said there was a high chance of rain during qualifying and I was hoping it would, as I went out early in the session. We are in good shape, definitely better than Magny Cours. We did a long run yesterday and a few weeks ago we tested and sorted out our tyres. We are better prepared and happier with the tyre choice."

James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "It was an exciting qualifying session with the threat of rain looming throughout. In the first session we chose to cover all options with our strategy - one car going at the beginning and one at the end to include the possibilities of rain showers arriving either early or late and maybe with the track drying out towards the end. Some rather 'interesting' driving was demonstrated in the first session which I assume was part of other team's strategies. As it panned out, it stayed dry and we were 16th and 17th although with Alonso losing 10 places following his engine change, Giorgio moves up. We had no problems except the high cross winds in the session and it was just about watching the skies and seeing if and when the rain would come."


Gianmaria Bruni (18th, 1:23.437): "For me, it was generally a good lap. It should have been faster, but I lost a couple of tenths in the Complex. To be honest, like everyone on the team, I wasn't feeling great after the news this morning. I hope I can get my mind clear tomorrow and do a good race for John."

Zsolt Baumgartner (19th, 1:24.117): "Today is a very sad day for all the team. I have mixed feelings about my qualifying performance. Probably, I could have achieved a better qualifying lap time this afternoon, considering the quicker runs I did this morning, but unfortunately, I made a couple of mistakes. The guys did a fantastic job today, particularly between the two sessions this afternoon, when they had to fix a problem with an anti-roll bar, which was not so easy. Now we'll aim for a good race tomorrow."

Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Under very difficult circumstances, the Minardi team completed today's running and will line up P18 and P19 for tomorrow's British Grand Prix. I must confess that our thoughts are with John, and his family and friends, at this extremely sad time. Tomorrow, however, there will be a serious effort to get two Minardis to the chequered flag in memory of one of the greatest guys in this Paddock."

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