OCTOBER 8, 2005
JAPANESE GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT
Ralf backs onto pole
Ralf Schumacher had luck on his side at Suzuka, taking pole position with a good lap in the middle of the session but his chief rivals never got the chance to take the fight to Toyota because a rain storm arrived at the circuit soon afterwards leaving those who followed, including most of the major players, to take part in what became more of a boat race than a car race.
Ralf Schumacher has not had a great year with Toyota but this was a perfect result for the Japanese car manufacturer, with the new Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe in the paddock to watch the action. And, of course, it puts Ralf in the best possible position to win the race on Sunday with Fernando Alonso and the two McLarens down at the back.
"Usually it never works to my advantage," he said. "The predictions were simply great and I think we have a good chance tomorrow since some of the really strong cars are at the back."
The weather forecasting skills of Toyota are, however, rather irrelevant when all is said and done because the rules rather than the weather forecasters dictate when the cars.
The massive Japanese crowds probably did not care because Japanese cars (in a fashion) were on pole and in second as well because Honda's expensive new signing Jenson Button was second on the grid, a tiny margin behind.
"We were very lucky," Button said. "Both of us. It was more for me because I had a lot of understeer in the car. It is great to be second on the grid at Honda's home Grand Prix. It was the first time we ran this tyre. I had massive understeer and I couldn't get the front tyres to work. It felt like a very slow lap and to be P2 I am very happy. It is very positive that we can have a very good home race for the team. It is going to be an exciting race."
The two Japanese cars ended up ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, who did his best in more difficult conditions than Ralf and Jenson.
"I was lucky and unlucky," Fisichella explained. "It started to rain in the last part of the lap and it was too wet for intermediate tyres. We have two McLarens at the back but it is going to be an interesting race. It will be difficult for them to get on the podium."
The rest of the grid was a mixture of cars that ran early in the session and down the back were a few who made a mess of things and fell off in the greasy pre-rain conditions.
The session had begun with David Coulthard's Red Bull and he ended up sixth fastest at the end of the session. That was lucky. Next to run was Antonio Pizzonia and a spin on his warming up lap was not a great start but he came back to record a time which was two seconds slower than Coulthard (perhaps due to fuel loads). That would mean that the Brazilian was down in 12th by the end of the session. Mark Webber was the next major runner to go and he ended up seventh while Tiago Monteiro spun off on his warming up lap and so ended up right at the back. Narain Karthikeyan avoided trouble and was third on the grid at the end of the lap but slipped down to 11th by the end. Jacques Villeneuve managed to get his lap in when it was still dry and as a result of that they will start eighth. Then the rain started to spit and Takuma Sato had to make the most of it. He did a good solid job and so starts fifth on the grid but the next man was Jarno Trulli and his run was a disaster with a spin into the gravel at the Degner Curve. Christian Klien was next and will start fourth, having been able to lap faster than Sato. Then came Ralf and Jenson. Rubens Barrichello was out in the damp but not wet and the Ferrari was really disappointing, ending up eighth at that point behind Villeneuve and then the rains came and so Fisichella, Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya had no chance. To add insult to injury Raikkonen will get dropped to the back of the grid because of his engine problem on Friday.