SEPTEMBER 24, 2005
BRAZILIAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT
A puzzle with the pieces missing
Kimi Raikkonen is the man of the moment in Formula 1. He looks supremely confident. He seems able to handle all the pressure, including some lurid stories which have been doing the rounds about his private life and his relationship with the McLaren team. But Kimi does not care. He knows that all he has to do is to deliver the goods. And that means winning. Getting the title may be almost impossible but he can finish the year with more wins than Fernando Alonso and that will tell a story in the history books.
On Friday in Brazil McLaren was on top as is now usual. There was definitely an improvement from Renault with a new chassis and engine package but McLaren still seemed to have the edge. BAR looked quite useful but we knew in advance that the team would be a one-car assault because Takuma Sato carried with him a 10 grid slot penalty from the Belgian GP, having run into Michael Schumacher at Spa. There were some other startling performances from Ferrari and Sauber but there was nothing to suggest that the cars were really that quick and so these were put down to PR stunts.
The fight for pole, it became clear, was going to be between McLaren and Renault and much would depend on the running order. And in this respect there were positives and negatives for both side. Giancarlo Fisichella was going to run first, after his early exit at Spa. Juan Pablo Montoya too was going to running early having collided with Antonio Pizzonia at the end of the Belgian GP. The track was going to improve and with Alonso and Raikkonen being the last two men to run the stage was set for an interesting qualifying session.
And so it was. Fisichella did a very good job. His aim, so he said, was to get on to one of the first three rows on the grid - which would have been a commendable effort given the starting point. But he did better than that. And even Montoya, who was running seventh in the session, wondered whether he would be able to beat the time. In the end he did and even lost some time in the final sector.
"I thought it would be top four," said Montoya, "but Fisichella's time was good. I expected an 1m11.7s or something like that but then I lost time in the last corner and I thought 'That's not good enough'."
In the end however his time was enough to grab pole and Montoya was happy with that. He knew that towards the end of the session things might be a little more difficult.
The two cars remained 1-2 all the way through and even Jenson Button, running third to last, did not manage to beat them.
The first to go was Alonso and he drove a nice lap.
"The team has done a fantastic job in recent weeks to carry on developing the car and engine," he said. "This is the result. At the last few races we have not been able to fight with McLaren but here I think we have a better chance."
But, he added, that he had been a little worried because Montoya's time had been so impressive.
"I saw that Juan Pablo was really quick and I thought it may be difficult to beat him, but then the track improved and I was able to go faster."
The implication was despite the Renault improvement, the McLaren is still a slightly better car. The other important question, of course, was amount of fuel that the cars were carrying and that we would not know until the first pit stops begin on Sunday afternoon.
One thing which seemed likely was that Raikkonen would be running with a lot of fuel. This year he has worked some real miracles with heavy fuel loads and logic said he would do the same. And as he dived into the first corner there was a hint that the car had a lot of gas onboard. The brakes locked up. That is just the sort of thing that happens when a driver is guessing on a heavier fuel load than he has used in previous sessions. We have seen it many times in the last couple of years with many different drivers. The incident cost Kimi seven-tenths of a second but he held it together and then tried to make up for lost time.
"I pushed hard," he said. "And I made up as much as I could. I think that without the lock-up it could have been pole position. In the race we will just go for it and do what we can. Our strategy is strong."
The incident meant that Kimi ended up fifth but a good start and a heavy fuel load should take care of that in the race, so a victory should not be excluded as a possibility. Raikkonen needs to get rid of Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella but more than anything he needs something to happen to Fernando Alonso.
Behind all of this there was much to be questioned with Christian Klien a very surprising sixth in his Red Bull. On Friday afternoon Klien had made a mess of things and backed his car into a wall and so he was keen to do well but even that did not explain this sort of pace. Christian was obviously running with a very low fuel load.
Michael Schumacher was seventh but the Ferrari looked a real handful and so the only obvious conclusion was that a low-fuel strategy would be revealed on Sunday. As it has been at several recent races.
Jarno Trulli was next but was dumped 10 places back on the grid because he had to change an engine. Logic says that he would have a full fuel tank so his was a very good effort. Ralf Schumacher was not looking very good because he was nowhere.
Felipe Massa was another man who looked to be on a two-stop strategy and was eighth on the grid.
Rubens Barrichello was next up in his Ferrari ahead of Ralf and Jacques Villeneuve.
Tiago Monteiro was 13th and that smelled of an empty fuel tanks as he was ahead of Mark Webber and Antonio Pizzonia in their Williams-BMWs.
David Coulthard too was rather far back in 15th and he looked likely to be a one-stopper in the race.