AUGUST 14, 2004
HUNGARIAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
There was a lot of talk in the Formula 1 paddock in Budapest about new formats for qualifying and the need to change the currently hideous arrangement that exists on Fridays. But when all is said and done there was very definitely nothing wrong with the show on Saturday. The action was taut and exciting and the unusual dodgy weather kept everyone looking out of the window to see if the rains were coming. In the end the grid girls for the Formula 3000 race were the unlucky ones and ended up looking like a bunch of very pretty drowned rats, which added more excitement and interest to the spectacle.
The pre-qualifying session had produced some rather odd-looking times and it soon became clear that drivers were busy positioning themselves for the final session but with a little more subtlety than we saw some weeks ago at Silverstone and one can only assume that the recent Drivers' briefings have featured talk on such situations. At first one would have been forgiven for thinking that the session reflected on the performance of the Bridgestones with two Ferraris and two Saubers in the top four but when all was carefully analysed it was simply a case of teams using the silly rules to their advantage but disguising the fact that this was what was going on.
Tyres were, nonetheless an important element in the final result as the wrong choice of rubber was a disaster for McLaren, which had been very competitive in the sessions on Friday and Saturday morning. It was so bad that there was no disguising the fact.
"The ambient temperature dropped significantly lower than we anticipated and our Friday qualifying tyre choice was subsequently proven to be incorrect," said team boss Ron Dennis. "Our grid positions are going to hamper our overall race performance."
Toyota was also a team which developed a sudden lack of competitiveness but the attempt to blame this on the wind dd not really work.
The important point was that the show in qualifying was a pretty good one with Mark Webber, the fourth car to run setting the first serious lap of 1m20.730s. That was good enough to remain unbeaten by David Coulthard, Giorgio Pantano, Olivier Panis, Nick Heidfeld and Ricardo Zonta. When Fernando Alonso went for his run the situation changed quite significantly with the Spaniard chopping seven-tenth from Webber's best lap. Kimi Raikkonen could not get within half a second of that and even Antonio Pizzonia could only get to within two tenths. Jarno Trulli was four-tenths off his team mate and reckoned that at that moment he had his own personal rain shower to disrupt matters.
And so we came to the man of the moment: Jenson Button in his BAR-Honda. The first sector was pretty much on a par with Alonso but in the second the BAR was better and Jenson emerged with an advantage of two-tenths of a second. Juan Pablo Montoya was winding up for his run by this point and he was immediately quick but as the lap developed so Montoya faded a little and he ended up a glimmer behind Pizzonia.
"The balance of my car prevented me from setting a quicker time," he said. "We sacrificed a little of the qualifying performance for the race pace. Still, starting from seventh on a circuit where overtaking is very difficult is not ideal."
Pizzonia was pretty happy to beat the big star second time out but reckoned he might have gained a tenth or two. It would probably not have been enough to beat Alonso but it would have been closer.
We had five cars left to run although in fact we would only see four because Felipe Massa, handicapped with the knowledge that he had to drop 10 places on the grid because of the silly engine failure rules that exist decided that he would rather have a new set of tyres for the race and so did not even bother to run. He would start from the back of the grid. Before this little glitch could bee revealed however we had Takuma Sato doing his thing and the world watched, holding its collective breath for when Takuma goes for it big time, it does tend to lower the amount of talk in the paddock as people watch his high wire act. Takuma likes to work without a safety net and having set everyone talking with the fastest time in the middle sector he then dropped a wheel into the dirt in the fastest part of the circuit. Yee-hah!
As we were recovering from the excitement and BAR fans were crawling out from behind the sofa where they had been hiding Giancarlo Fisichella went for his run in the Sauber. It was a good effort but it netted him only the sixth quickest time and with the two Ferraris still to run that meant that Fizzy was going to be eighth on the grid unless something went horribly wrong for either Michael or Rubens. But eighth on the grid in a Sauber is a pretty good effort these days.
But already the attention had turned to the red car and Michael Schumacher was off and running. He set the fastest time in the first sector and we knew it was all over for the rest. He was fastest in the second sector as well and although he faded towards the end of the lap it was still good enough to take pole position by six-tenths of a second. You could almost see the shoulders of the opposition drop as Michael swept across the line. This is Hungary the one place people had hope of beating Schumacher and he was utterly dominant.
It was down to Rubens and while he can always get close to Michael there is never much expectation that he will bounce Schumacher from the top of a timesheet and sure enough he down two-tenths by the end of the lap. It was a good solid Ferrari 1-2. BAR was third and fourth and even the fast-starting Alonso was going to have to work hard to get from fifth to first at the start. Still, it is not impossible. Nor for that matter is a first or second corner bingle, a tradition at this track where overtaking has always been such a problem.
Michael said he was surprised that McLaren was not more competitive but he was happy enough. Given his performances this year Sunday should be a walk in the park.
But then again it is times like this that things go wrong.
The grid was pretty much team by team apart from the poor performances of Trulli and Massa's problems and the fact that the Jaguars and Toyotas were mixed up.
No-one had any big illusions about Sunday. Michael Schumacher should walk it from such a situation.
Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:19.146): "That was a good lap, although as a racing driver you always feel you could do better. Rubens did a fantastic pre-qualifying lap, but I was not too worried as we had both been very close in the morning. The new Bridgestone tyre possibly gave us an advantage and along with Shell, they have given us a big push, helping us to pick up performance. I am not so surprised at the grid: we expected BAR and Renault to be competitive, even if I am surprised McLaren is a bit further back, but maybe they have a different strategy. Even though it is cooler than usual here, tomorrow will be a tough race as this track requires a lot of work at the wheel, the cars slide a lot and the bumps make it unpredictable. It is hard work, but that is what we train for and I am looking forward to it. The fact that we can win the Constructors' title tomorrow will have no affect on the way we tackle this race."
Rubens Barrichello (2nd, 1:19.323): "My pre-qualifying was very good and my qualifying was good. I experienced a bit more understeer than we had expected which cost me time in the second sector. I knew it could have gone either way between me or Michael, so in a way it is disappointing not to have got pole, but Michael drove a perfect lap. This has to be the worst "P2" of the year as starting on the dirty side of the track is really dirty here. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that I can have a good race tomorrow."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "We knew we had a competitive package and this result confirms it. The F2004 appears to be very well balanced, the Bridgestone tyres were exceptional over a single lap, having performed very well over longer runs in free practice and, once again, Shell has provided fuel and lubricants that are up to the job. During qualifying, there were a few worrying moments as far as the weather was concerned, as a few drops of rain appeared, but in the end it all went well with no outside factors affecting the result. An all-red front row proves that our preparation work and efforts this weekend are going in the right direction. Now we have to tackle the final and most important part. We know a dream is within our grasp tomorrow afternoon, but we are equally aware that seventy laps of this track is a very tough challenge. We will tackle it with passion and determination as usual. Today's performance is a nice way to remember our founder on the sixteenth anniversary of his death. The Commendatore would have been happy to see two red cars heading the field. Under the guidance of President Montezemolo we have the responsibility of continuing to move forward with the legend that is Ferrari."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Both drivers worked really effectively with their engineers to get their cars well balanced. The F2004 is a very good car but much of the credit for this result must go to the new Bridgestone tyres, which worked very well and constitute a good step forward. Having struggled at this track last year, today's result is something of a reward."
Antonio Pizzonia (6th, 1:20.170): "I am fairly pleased with my qualifying lap, even if I didn't have much luck because it started to rain a little bit when I was in the last sector and this slowed me down a bit, especially going through the last two corners.†My car felt better in the final qualifying than in pre-qualifying and also the track conditions improved from one session to the other. Anyway, I know I have a better race car than a qualifying car so I am confident. After all, starting from 6th†and 7th position means we can score points, and this is what we are aiming for."
Juan Pablo Montoya (7th, 1:20.199): "I put in a fairly good lap without mistakes but the balance of my car prevented me from setting a quicker time. We sacrificed a little of qualifying performance for the race pace. For the first time I will be starting from the clean side of the track, which is also important here. Still, starting from 7th position on a circuit where overtaking is very difficult, is not ideal. The only chance I see to pass the car in front is at turn one really, and that's it. Nevertheless, we should have a good race. It's nice to see Antonio doing well. He has been quick all weekend and he did a good job."
Sam Michael, Technical Director: "We have had no mechanical problems and the new chassis parts worked well. Our tyre choice looks good for the race as does the set-up. In qualifying we did struggle a bit with the balance on both cars, but this should help us for the race tomorrow. Both drivers did a good job in qualifying, especially considering it was raining lightly for both of them. We were all pleased for Antonio as he performed much better than the last GP. With a good race we should have points from both cars tomorrow."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "The most important acknowledgement of this weekend so far is that the car with the new aero package works well. However we are not completely satisfied with starting positions six and seven. In any event, we will see tommorow in the race what these starting positions translate to. Congratulations to Antonio, who showed a strong qualifying performance at his second GP outing."
Kimi Raikkonen (10th, 1:20.570): "Obviously we are not where we wanted to be as following this morning's practice we were expecting to qualify in the top five. I didn't really get the set-up perfect and was sliding too much, but hopefully the conditions will be more to our advantage tomorrow. It will be a difficult race, but I qualified seventh last year and finished second, so anything can happen."
David Coulthard (12th, 1:20.897): "I think we have been too conservative with our tyre choice and are paying the prize. It's hard to judge where the car is on the circuit and we are sliding around a bit. Unfortunately here in Hungary you have a problem if you qualify badly as it's really hard to overtake. However, we just need to get on with it and do the best we can in tomorrow's race, but it will be tough."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "The ambient temperature dropped significantly lower than we anticipated and our Friday qualifying tyre choice has subsequently proven to be incorrect. Tomorrow should be a hotter day which will help, but of course our grid positions are going to hamper our overall race performance. However despite the outcome of today we believe that the strong performances from Silverstone and Germany will continue for the remainder of this season's races."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "A poor result. We didn't perform as well in qualifying as we did yesterday in the Free Practice sessions when conditions were different. Maybe we were too conservative with our tyre choice as the temperatures are lower than expected, but we will see whether it was the right choice for tomorrow when we should look stronger."
Fernando Alonso (5th, 1:19.996): "The grip levels of the circuit changed a lot for me between the first and second sessions, which was a bit of a surprise. I attacked as hard as possible, but after my lap I had the impression that it could have been better. The R24 was well-balanced and it handled very well. If I can make a good start from fifth position, then I think we can have an interesting race."
Jarno Trulli (9th, 1:20.411): "The brief rain shower ruined my qualifying lap. The first sector was dry, and I was very quick, then I got to the second sector and felt that the car was sliding more because it was damp. The lack of grip caused my mistake in the chicane at turns six and seven, and then I tried to be as quick as possible in the final sector. I didn't expect to be ninth on the grid in Hungary, and I think it will make tomorrow's race a tough one for me."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "Although we clearly need more performance at this circuit, the result in qualifying is by no means bad and both of our cars will start from the clean side of the grid. Fernando found the car balance to be good and the grip much better in the final session, such that he perhaps did not get the best from the package. However, I do not think this affected his position. Jarno was extremely unlucky, and he encountered the first rain shower we have seen here during a session of the Hungarian Grand Prix in eighteen years."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "Given the importance of good grid positions here in Hungary, we must admit that our positions are perhaps not the most advantageous for the race. As expected, the times were extremely tight and it is frustrating to see our biggest rivals, the two BARs, directly ahead of Fernando: without the rain Jarno encountered, ze could have been fifth and sixth, which would have better reflected our level of performance. However, we cannot rule anything out for tomorrow, and we will certainly be fighting for a podium finish."
Takuma Sato (3rd, 1:19.693): "I'm really pleased with my lap. We expected to be strong here after Germany and this has proved to be the case. I think the weather has taken everyone by surprise and the last few runners this afternoon - including myself - were lucky that the rain held off until after the session. It's a great bonus for the team that we have both cars on the second row of the grid tomorrow. I feel confident about the race and my focus now will be on achieving my objective of a podium finish."
Jenson Button (4th, 1:19.700): "I'm slightly disappointed to be honest. I didn't get enough heat in the tyres on the out-lap and that compromised my quick lap. Nonetheless, locking out the second row behind the Ferraris is a good team result and we can do a good job from there tomorrow. I would have been happier to be on the front row but the Bridgestones have been working better than any of us expected. The most important thing now is to make sure we stay ahead of the Renaults tomorrow."
David Richards, Team Principal: "A really great team effort; I am especially pleased to see such a consistently strong performance from both cars, and for the second time this year locking out the second row. Once again, we have shown that no matter what type of track we visit, fast or slow, we are competitive. It was not looking like an easy weekend, but this demonstrates that in the toughest circumstances the team has the strength to fight back."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "This is a really important circuit to qualify well at, so the team did another very solid job to put both cars on the second row. We expected the car to perform well here, as it has at many other tracks this year. Neither driver had a perfect qualifying lap but despite this it's quite clear that the Ferraris are still very strong. We are in a good position and we should benefit from the warmer conditions predicted for tomorrow's race."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "Both drivers have done an excellent job to get P3 and P4 - this obviously gives us a great chance to get on the podium in the race tomorrow."
Giancarlo Fisichella (8th, 1:20.324): "Today was totally opposite to yesterday! We made a big improvement in the balance of the car and it was more consistent as a result so I was more confident in its behaviour. I think maybe the weather conditions also played in our favour a little. It will be difficult to score points tomorrow, but that is of course our target and starting well within the top 10 will certainly help us."
Felipe Massa (20th, No Time): "What can I say? Of all the circuits we visit this one, together with Monaco, is the most difficult on which to overtake and therefore the worst on which to have an engine problem that loses you grid positions. It's such a shame because we made a big step forward with the set-up today. The balance was way better. And you know, I made a lot of mistakes on my prequalifying lap, yet still managed to set a good time. It's frustrating because this could be our strongest race of the season, but at least by not going out to qualify I saved a set of tyres and I'll be pushing to make best use of them at the start. My hopes for the race rest almost entirely on how well the opening lap goes for me."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Congratulations to the team for such a strong qualifying performance. First of all I'd like to mention Giancarlo, who did a magnificent job, and Bridgestone, who provided us with a new tyre compound that worked very well here. It's a real pity that Felipe had an engine failure this morning because otherwise we could have had both drivers in the top 10. Finally, thank you to all the staff at Hinwil, who have been working so diligently recently to make further improvements in the Sauber Petronas C23."
Mark Webber (11th, 1:20.730): "This morning was really productive for me as we managed to successfully complete my practice programme during the 33-laps. The R5 is well-balanced on this track and I went into qualifying feeling really prepared and generally happy with the set-up. Michelin have done a good job today and I like to think we have made a good choice for the race tomorrow. Going into qualifying this afternoon it did look at if it may rain at one stage so I was pleased to complete my lap in the dry. My first sector was perhaps marginally conservative but you have to be careful with that first corner under braking. I made up some time in both the second and third sectors so I was relatively pleased with my time and position. This track has been historically much hotter so the lower temperatures are making it more interesting for us. I think the race tomorrow is going to be quite exciting and I am certainly looking forward to it, lets see what happens but we have laid some good foundations and points will of course be our goal."
Christian Klien (14th, 1:21.118): "We have been focusing very hard today on pulling together a really good set-up for the race tomorrow. I had a busy morning and spent most of my time working on balance and set-up. I am pleased with my current set-up on the R5 and doing another 28-laps this morning really helped me feel comfortable with the package. Going into qualifying I was happy with my tyre choice and I am pleased with my final time of 1:21.118. It's my best lap of the weekend although as always I would have liked to have extracted a few more tenths out of the third sector. Looking ahead to tomorrow, it's not going to be any easy race but we knew that before we came here. Overtaking is not easy and the start is all-important. I am looking forward to getting behind the wheel for the race and I will be giving it my best shot. Points would be reward for the team's hard work so lets just see what I can do."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "This morning's practice sessions were encouraging as we successfully worked through our programmes for both Mark and Christian. Our main focus is always on the race although since over-taking is limited here we have been trying to find a good set- up for both qualifying and the race. With the track improving all the time, the drivers managed some good qualifying simulation work and general set-up. Going into this afternoon's first qualifying, it seemed that there were quite a few light fuel-loads out there. Our first session positions actually allowed us to go out early in the second session, which worked well for us. Mark's second session was pleasing and although he may have been able to extract a tenth or two more out of the first sector his grid position is encouraging ahead of tomorrow's race. Christian has done a really good job all weekend and he really pushed the car in the qualifying sessions. Given our strategy for tomorrow I am pleased with our final grid positions and we will be giving it our all in the pursuit of points."
Olivier Panis (13th, 1:21.068): "For some reason the performance of the car in qualifying was much worse than we have shown this weekend. The only thing I can think of is that the wind must have affected us more than everyone else. The whole race team has worked well, but now we need to be fully focused on the race and keep pushing. In the last six races of this season, we need to pick up the maximum number of points we can."
Ricardo Zonta (15th, 1:21.135): "The weather changed a bit between practice and qualifying and that made the car slide around more. Also, it was my first experience with one-lap qualifying, so it was quite difficult to put everything together. In spite of the final result, I am very motivated. I think we have a good car and I am ready to fight for points in the race tomorrow. I have had fantastic support from the team, which has made the transition from third driver to race driver much easier this weekend."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "We are all disappointed with the outcome of today's qualifying session and I do not think our grid positions reflect our true performance level. This morning, the balance on the car was pretty good, but in qualifying the cars just seem to lack grip and we couldn't get near to the times that we achieved in practice. However, we now have to get on with the job in hand, and make sure we get both cars to the finish of the race. The car has been consistent over long runs, so we have to see if we can get both cars into the points."
Nick Heidfeld (16th, 1:22.180): "I was very happy with pre-qualifying but experienced a lot of oversteer and a nervous car in qualifying itself. Under those circumstances it was difficult to get more out of it. I didn't expect so much difference between the two sessions and I'm not sure what the reason is as overall this weekend we have been looking better than expected. It may be that this particular track suits our package, but I hope we can continue the trend tomorrow and in the next few races."
Giorgio Pantano (17th, 1:22.356): "I am a little bit frustrated with how qualifying went after seeing what we did this morning, when with used tyres the car set-up and balance were quite good. When I I went out on fresh tyres though I had some problems, with the balance seeming to go completely the other way from the progress we made after free practice. I don't know what caused this but it meant we didn't find a good lap time - I lost time on the last two corners of my qualifying lap due to that. The good thing is that the balance felt better to me on used tyres so it should be okay in the race."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "Congratulations to Bridgestone for producing an excellent tyre which has allowed them to take pole position. They have been working very hard on tyre development, which has obviously paid off for them today with a great result compared to twelve months ago at this event. Unfortunately neither of our drivers had the balance they were expecting when they were out there this afternoon and so we were not able to meet the challenge."
Zsolt Baumgartner (18th, 1:24.329): "I'm very happy with the performance today in front of my home crowd and I hope tomorrow we will have a reliable car so that I can finish the race. That is the main goal for me this weekend, as I wasn't able to finish here last year. Once again, the team did a great job today because we worked a lot on the car balance and made good progress. I was really happy about that, and I hope we can now have a successful race."
Gianmaria Bruni (19th, 1:24.679): "I'm happy. Everything went well considering the sort of race strategy we have settled on for tomorrow. I was expecting a slower lap time in qualifying than I actually achieved, so now I'm hoping for a good race."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Despite lining up P18 and P19 for tomorrow's race, the Minardi team can be pleased with its efforts today, as we have been, on average, 3.5 seconds a lap quicker than we were here last year. As always, we will be aiming for reliability in tomorrow's race where, weather conditions permitting, there may be a chance to score a point. The Hungarian fans have really adopted Minardi as their own this weekend, and it was truly touching to hear the loudest cheers today when Zsolt crossed the line in qualifying. A point tomorrow would be truly memorable."