AUGUST 28, 2004
BELGIAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING REPORT
Trulli a fluke
The Lord looked down on Renault F1 on Saturday afternoon at Spa and it allowed the team to take first and third on the grid for the Belgian Grand Prix. The conditions were changing all the time and when the Renaults were out the track was just dry enough for the two Renault men to use intermediate tyres. Then the rains came back and the Bridgestone tyre advantage was negated. But could the Ferrari tyre advantage overcome the rain disadvantage? That made for a great qualifying session - even if the result was not in any way indicative of what would happen on Sunday afternoon.
It was clear in the half-wet conditions in pre-qualifying that the Bridgestone teams had a huge advantage. We suspected when Michael Schumacher went round in 1m53.755s. The first Michelin runner was Fernando Alonso and his lap was a shockingly slow 1m58.242s. That was then beaten by the Michelin-shod Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya but a lap of 1m56.842s in the same conditions as the Ferraris said it all. The Williams-BMW was three seconds off the pace and one had to blame most of that on the Michelin tyres.
The point was made very clear when Giancarlo Fisichella took his Sauber around the track in 1m56.068s to grab third place. Bridgestone domination was clearly underlined and as the session went on and the track dried a little we saw the conditions absolutely on the cusp. Massa was able to take advantage of the Bridgestones with a 1m56.057s but then the track was dry enough a few moments later for Kimi Raikkonen to go faster than Massa. The weather was obviously going to be critical in the outcome of qualifying.
The rains came back just a hint between the sessions and the first indication we got was when Olivier Panis set a 1m59.532s lap with the Toyota. It rained some more screwing the next few runners and then the spitting stopped and Mark Webber drove a blinding lap of 1m58.729s to take the provisional pole. Antonio Pizzonia, Takuma Sato and Jenson Button all tried to beat the time but they could not. Conditions were improving all the time and when the two Renault men went out the conditions were right for intermediate tyres.
"I took a big gamble," said Jarno Trulli. "I was lucky."
He was also better than Fernando Alonso, who made a mistake on the way down the hill, and ended up four-tenths slower than Trulli, an amusing situation for those who feel that Renault treated Trulli very badly early this year when the unfathomable decision was taken to drop him for 2005. And then the weather changed again and rain started to fall as David Coulthard did his lap. That put paid to his challenge and things were even worse for Montoya. Fisichella came next but the increased rain had negated the tyre advantage and Giancarlo could do not better than fourth. Massa did even worse and Raikkonen could do nothing in the conditions and had to make do with eighth.
And so we were left with the Ferraris and rain. They had better tyres but the conditions were worse and the big question was how it would balance up. Barrichello looked good but the rain at the bottom of the circuit was worse than at the top and at the final corner Rubens was caught out and went wide. He was fifth on the grid.
Michael Schumacher set off and we knew that it was going to be very close. At the top where the track was dryer he was ahead on the split times and everyone thought it was all over but as he came down to the chicane it was obvious that the track was wetter. It would all depend on traction in the chicane. And there was nothing much Michael could do about that. He crossed the line a fraction behind Trulli. It had been a hugely impressive lap in the circumstances and it was just bad luck that Trulli was ahead.
Down at Renault they did the usual clowning for the cameras but anyone with a vague idea of what was happening knew that it was just a lucky day. The funny thing was that it was not hugely lucky for the Renault bosses because it put the spotlight once again on the weird decision earlier this summer to fire Trulli. So there they were: the man who had taken two pole positions and a win and is departing and the man who has one pole position and no wins, who is staying. It was all based on results Renault boss Patrick Faure said at the time, talking total piffle. Jarno must have delighted in sticking it to his soon-to-be-ex-bosses.
The race will be all about the weather and about strategies because the fast-starting Renaults may be able to manufacture a situation in which Alonso gets ahead and holds back Schumacher while Trulli gets away.
But that would be another story. And with the grid nicely mixed up.
Michael Schumacher (2nd, 1:56.304): "The weather conditions meant the session was something of a lottery, as we had not expected that final splash of rain. I can be happy with being on the front row in second place given the conditions when I made my run. As for my lap, I struggled a bit at the top of the hill, going sideways into Turn 5. I think I lost the majority of the time at the last chicane as I did not have enough traction on the way out, but I have no complaints. We face a big challenge tomorrow as we know that the Renaults start very well, but we have also made some very good starts and so I think we can be competitive in the race."
Rubens Barrichello (6th, 1:58.175): "Everything went quite well, except that there was a bit more rain when the last group of five cars went out. The last corner caught me out, even though I was feeling the tyres were losing a bit of their performance so I was being careful. I had oversteer and went into a slide, so I suppose to be in the top six having made a mistake is not too bad. A bit of a frustrating day, but I'm still optimistic for tomorrow. I don't mind if it is wet or dry tomorrow, as the conditions are the same for everyone, although my car is set up more for the dry than for the wet as we are expecting drier conditions tomorrow."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "The changing weather conditions undoubtedly affected the outcome of qualifying. We were worried that it might rain harder towards the end and unfortunately, it did. Therefore, it was impossible for us to do better, as the rain prevented us from getting the most out of our package, with the Bridgestone tyres excellent once again. Having said that, we cannot complain. It is expected to be dry for tomorrow's race and I believe we will be competitive. We will be contesting Ferrari's seven hundredth grand prix, having already taken the Constructors' title for a sixth consecutive time and sure of securing a fifth consecutive Drivers' crown. Tomorrow, Michael has an opportunity to extend his record for World Title wins, to add to all the other records he holds. Everything is in place for us to be happy and satisfied and above all as usual, we are motivated and determined."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Given the conditions, the fact we were still fighting for pole is a good result. I don't think being second on the grid tomorrow is such a problem as a racing line will not have formed on the track by the time the race starts. We have a good dry set-up and our indications are that we will have a dry race tomorrow. It's a shame Rubens had a little problem at the end of his lap, as it means he now has more work to do. In fact, we advised Michael to be cautious after seeing Raikkonen and Rubens nearly come off the track and so he rightly took it quite easy in the last sector. I think we will be in a strong position tomorrow as we did not compromise today and ran with a dry set-up."
Juan Pablo Montoya (11th, 1:59.681): "Bad luck for me in today's qualifying. The track was starting to dry out and we decided to use intermediate tyres, like Trulli, Alonso and Coulthard who went out just before me. However, already on my out lap it started to rain quite hard, which made it very difficult to keep the car on the track and as a result I lost a lot of time. There was no grip at all! It's a shame because in the morning we looked quite competitive in the wet and in pre-qualifying I was the second fastest driver on Michelin tyres. Still, I think we have a very good race car for tomorrow, we have found a good compromise which will hopefully pay off."
Antonio Pizzonia (14th, 2:01.447): "My qualifying was disappointing, for sure. The lack of running this morning didn't help, and I even crashed in the last few minutes. The team did a really good job in putting the car back together in time so that I was able to qualify in my race car. Obviously I'm disappointed, but I'm hoping to have a good race tomorrow. It is possible to overtake here, as it's such a long circuit, so we will see what happens."
Sam Michael, Technical Director: "We have had a busy morning after Antonio's crash at the end of the short free practice session. We were ready just in time for pre-qualifying after a fantastic effort by the mechanics. In the main qualifying session Antonio made a couple of mistakes on his lap. Unfortunately for Juan it started to rain again right after he had left the pits on intermediate tyres. He did a good job by achieving the time that he did under these conditions. We have had no mechanical problems and we are looking forward to the race now."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Qualifying was a gamble today, heavily affected by the tyre choice. The weather was favourable to Renault and they took the pole. Our drivers had bad luck, just like a few others, especially in final qualifying. Now it's all about getting a good race from these two unfavourable starting positions."
David Coulthard (4th, 1:57.990): "I was a little bit worried at the start of my lap as it began to rain. However, the intermediates we chose to use shortly before my run gave us a good qualifying time, especially as this was my first lap on these tyres. The car has been set up for the race with dry weather in mind as is predicted, so we will have to wait and see tomorrow, but I feel we will have a strong race."
Kimi Raikkonen (10th, 1:59.635): "Unfortunately it started raining heavily during my run. I made a mistake in the last chicane, which cost me some time. However, from our performance yesterday in the dry I think we should be looking OK in the race when the weather hopefully will be dry again. The overall performance of my car has been good from the start of the weekend, so I am looking forward to tomorrow even though I am starting from tenth position."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "Overall the performance of the cars has been competitive with respect of the conditions, save for the inevitable performance differential between the makes of tyre. We anticipated tomorrow's conditions to be better, so consciously opted for dry settings for today's wet qualifying. This coupled with varying track conditions made it somewhat more difficult for the drivers during qualifying."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "Today was a weather lottery catching out other competitors even more than ourselves. Kimi had bad luck being out on his lap when it had started to rain heavily, and David's run on intermediates was hampered by worsening track conditions as well. However, with the forecast predicting better weather for tomorrow we should be better in the race."
Jarno Trulli (1st, 1:56.232): "This afternoon, we took a gamble and it paid off. We were watching the cars that went out before me in qualifying very closely to judge whether we could use the intermediate tyres or not. I thought it could work, particularly in the second and third sectors, so we took the risk, and the team did a great job to react so quickly. On the lap itself, everything went smoothly: the handling of the R24 was good, and I would even say I could have gone slightly quicker. It has been tough for me in recent races, so I hope that I will be able to turn this pole position into a strong result tomorrow."
Fernando Alonso (3rd, 1:56.686): "I think that overall, I was lucky today: after I had done the first half of my timed lap, it started raining again, but fortunately it was not heavy and I didn't lose too much time. In fact, it was the first time this weekend that I had run on intermediate tyres, which meant I didn't have long to adapt to them, and it was quite difficult to find the limit. However, we had a very good day yesterday and I am optimistic that the car will be very quick in the dry."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "This is a fantastic result for the entire team. I have always said that I don't believe in luck, but we were certainly lucky today. Having said that, you must be able to seize opportunities when they come along and we did that by choosing to run on intermediates at the very last moment. Equally, Michelin supplied us with tyres that were perfectly suited to the conditions. I am very pleased to see Jarno take his second pole position, and we are confident that we can make good use of our grid positions in tomorrow's race."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "It is extremely satisfying to see both cars qualify in the top three, particularly as today's running was disrupted so severely. Fortunately, we are confident that we are in a strong position for tomorrow's race: we completed more laps yesterday than many of our competitors, and collected a significant amount of useful information. That gives us real hope for the Grand Prix."
Jenson Button (12th, 2:00.237): "It's disappointing to be 12th on the grid as it has been a very long time since we have had a poor qualifying session. We made the wrong tyre choice due to the standing water that was on the track and this cost us in our performance today. However, the car is strong and we are confident for the race, so with the mixed grid I think we can all look forward to an interesting Belgian Grand Prix tomorrow."
Takuma Sato (15th, 2:01.813): "I'm disappointed with today's result. The rain stopped during the session and the lap and because we had extreme wet tyres on, they overheated quite quickly due to the conditions, so I had very poor grip by the end of the lap. The grid is quite mixed-up for the race tomorrow. We have good straight-line speed, so we have an opportunity to achieve a solid two-car points finish, continue to challenge Renault and maintain our third position in the Championship."
David Richards, Team Principal: "As anticipated, the fickle Ardennes weather has created an interesting qualifying session. Both our drivers were on the track at a time when it was a fine line between the choice of wet or extreme wet tyres and, unfortunately, the safe choice did not pay off on this occasion. Nevertheless, assuming the prediction of a dry race tomorrow proves correct, we should be capable of a strong performance and another solid points finish for both cars."
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "Despite the morning sessions being limited to just 15 minutes of wet running, we were able to get good laps on both cars and were confident with our car performance going into qualifying. However, the conditions in the afternoon were more variable and the window when Takuma and Jenson ran was too dry for the extreme wet tyres we chose to run. With slightly different timing we might have chosen the wet tyres instead but the advantage fell to the following runners. Despite our poor grid positions, we are confident that we have a good set-up for tomorrow's race."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "That was clearly not a good session for us but we have been fast up to this point so I am confident we can do a good job tomorrow."
Giancarlo Fisichella (5th, 1:58.040): "Given that the rain spoiled our chances of a really high grid placing today, I think fifth is a very strong performance. But I feel unlucky that just before I went out we had to switch from wets to extreme wets as the rain increased. That cost us performance, for sure. In the dry yesterday we were very strong, however, so I am optimistic for the race as the forecast predicts a dry day tomorrow."
Felipe Massa (8th, 1:59.008): "Between Juan Pablo Montoya and our runs the track got much wetter, so we were rather unlucky today. By the time I went out for my qualifying lap the track was completely wet and I got lots of wheelspin whenever I encountered any white lines. But I am quite happy in such extraordinary circumstances with eighth place, because I know that we have a good set-up, wet or dry, for the race tomorrow. It's good that both cars are comfortably in the top 10, and I'm really looking forward to scoring some points."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "It was a very strong qualifying session for us. Congratulations to Giancarlo and Felipe, and to the team for developing such a strong car. Thanks, too, to Bridgestone for their tyres. We actually had bad luck, however, as the rain worsened just before Giancarlo and Felipe went out. I believe that each of them will start a row further back than they really deserve to. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to a strong race performance whatever the conditions."
Mark Webber (7th, 1:58.729): "It's been quite an usual day for us here at Spa as we entered qualifying having only completed twelve laps in this morning's practice sessions. The weather has not been good at all and this has really affected the amount of running that we have been able to do. Despite this the team has done an excellent job in preparing the car and as a result the R5 felt well-balanced going into qualifying this afternoon. It was still raining when I headed out and we took the decision to be on full-wets. The track can be tricky to master in these conditions but I am pleased with where we have ended up. 7th on the grid for tomorrow's race is good news for us and of course now we are focusing on the race and our goal to finish in the points. All the cars are very reliable at the stage on the calendar and the fight for points is not easy. However, we have a good solid package in the R5 and we are well-prepared for tomorrow so I am looking forward to getting out there and racing."
Christian Klien (13th, 2:01.246): "I was hoping to get some more running completed this morning and I was certainly disappointed with only having the time to do six laps. The track conditions were really wet and very greasy out there and this made everyone's job more difficult. The guys however have continued to work very hard on the car and they have done a really good job with the package. The car feels well balanced and very smooth on track so I am pleased with our progress. My first qualifying session this afternoon was good but going into the second session the rain started again when I headed out and I was probably pushing too hard as well. Although 13th on the grid is still a good points fighting place and given the complexity of this track I have no doubt that there will be attrition. I will be looking to make the most of any opportunity to make my way up the grid and I am certainly excited about the race."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "The rain this morning limited our running time and as it happened we went into qualifying having only completed 12 laps between the two cars. Everyone is in the same boat though and I did feel well prepared for qualifying after our good strong practice performances from yesterday. During qualifying the conditions did not improve greatly and we ran in extreme wets. Both Mark and Christian produced solid performances and I am certainly pleased with our positions for tomorrow's grid. We tried very hard today to maintain our focus for the race tomorrow as it is forecast to be dry while also preparing the car for qualifying which was wet. I think we have achieved this but of course we will have to wait and see how we do tomorrow. This race is going to be exciting and with both of our drivers in good starting positions we will be racing for a points finish with both."
Olivier Panis (9th, 1:59.552): "It was a good qualifying session for us today. I did a very good lap running with full wet tyres and the team managed everything well in difficult conditions. We have opted to run a different tyre compound compared to other Michelin runners this weekend, which worked well in yesterday's dry practice sessions. To be ninth on the grid with the strategy we have opted for and the tyres we have selected, I am very confident that we can have a strong race tomorrow."
Ricardo Zonta (20th, 2:03.895): "My grid position was affected a lot by the mistake I made in the first qualifying session. There was not much grip on the track due to the large amount of rain that had fallen all morning. I ran over one of the white lines around the track, but it was very slippery and I was sent into the gravel. The team did an incredible job trying to repair the car for the second qualifying session, but some of the aero parts were damaged, which unbalanced the car a lot for my second run. I am very sorry for the team, but I hope our strategy will work to our advantage and enable me to work my way up through the field."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "With weather conditions like the ones we experienced today, qualifying is always a bit of a lottery and so it proved for us today with mixed fortunes for our drivers. In the first session, Ricardo ran wide over the one of the kerbs, which caused the car to snap away from him. Although he didn't hit the barrier too hard, it caused quite a bit of damage to the rear of the car and to the undertray, which had to be changed. We only had a few minutes to do all of that work and, although we were able to get the car out in time, it was missing a significant number of components, which compromised Ricardo's lap. Olivier wasn't happy with the balance of his car in the first session, but we improved everything for the important run and he drove a strong qualifying lap. The weather conditions played slightly into our hands towards the end of the session and consequently, Olivier will start from a highly encouraging ninth on the grid. We are very optimistic for a strong race performance from both cars in tomorrow's race."
Nick Heidfeld (16th, 2:02.645): "I'm not satisfied. Relatively speaking, the car looked really strong this morning and we were not too far off the top ten and even then I knew that there was still room to improve further. Then in pre-qualifying and especially in qualifying, I lost grip and had a very loose rear end. But that happens: obviously, it's difficult for everyone to judge the conditions with so little track time in free practice. But still we have the race ahead of us and I'm looking forward to that."
Giorgio Pantano (19th, 2:03.833): "I'm a little bit surprised because I don't know what changed between pre-qualifying and qualifying! It's so strange to lose 4 seconds from the first to the second session. The car was different in qualifying, it was much more slippery. I think there is something wrong, whether it's the car or me I don't know but we need to understand what happened."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "In race trim in the morning we ran solidly and the Bridgestone tyres worked well. This afternoon we had a good weather forecast that said it would rain later in the session so we were hopeful of getting the best of the track conditions within the first 30 minutes of qualifying. Unfortunately an early shower forced us to stay with the extreme wets and we could not maximise our position."
Gianmaria Bruni (17th, 2:02.651): "This was a good qualifying session for me without any mistakes. It was a pity that I wasn't able to drive for many laps this morning, as we weren't able to find the perfect chassis set-up. The car felt a bit different in qualifying from the way it did this morning, and was not so easy to drive. If everything had been perfect, I think I could have qualified perhaps two positions farther up the grid. I have to say, though, the guys did a great job today, and I want to thank them for all their effort."
Zsolt Baumgartner (18th, 2:03.303): "I think it has been a good day. We ran well in the pre-qualifying session and, despite the wet weather, I felt very comfortable with the car. It was a shame in the qualifying run, though, that I couldn't equal, or improve on, my previous lap time. Unfortunately, I made a couple of mistakes in sectors two and three that cost me quite a bit of time. The car is good, though, and we hope tomorrow will be wet, as it will improve our chances of a good result."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "All weekend, the team has performed competitively against its nearest rivals. To finish today's qualifying session between the Jordans and ahead of a Toyota is proof of an excellent effort and a job well done by both drivers and all team members. Let's hope tomorrow delivers Minardi a just result."