AUSTRALIAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT
Jenson Button took pole position for the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne after a incident-packed qualifying session. The Honda had looked good throughout practice but the fight for pole was with the two Renaults of Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella and the McLarens of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya looked like being a contender but then spun at the critical moment. He tried again and was quickest in the first two sectors but lost time in the last sector and ended up fifth quickest. The big question, of course, is who is acrrying what fuel load but perahps a bigger question on Sunday will be the weather as Melbourne has been amazingly unsettled in the last couple of days and indeed a shower in the final minutes of the second quaifying session meant that Michael Schumacher missed out on getting into the top 10.
"It was a manic session," said Button. "We were a bit off the pace at the start and the team did fantastic job. It shows how keeping relaxed and focussed we were able to get pole position. It was very difficult to get a lap time but in the end we did it! The car felt very good on new tyres. It is just so truicky out there very windy, bumpy and low grip out there. I've been off a lot which is unusual. It is really tough to keep temperature in the tyres."
There were red flags in the two first 15-minute sessions and then a sudden rain storm at the end of the second session. This meant that going into the top 10 run-off there was an urgent need for the cars to go out and get times in case it rained and then to stay out and get faster and faster just to make sure that one was running when the track was at its best. Initially it was Alonso and Fisichella at the front. The first man to go in for new tyres was Montoya and he duly took pole position but the others were lining up to go for it and the pressure was on. Local hero Mark Webber was briefly second but then Alonso shot to the top of the timesheets. Montoya was clearly going for it again but spun and then Button came through to surprise everyone - including himself - to take pole. Fisichella put in another quick one to be second and everyone watched Montoya going for it. It looked good in the first two sectors but Monty could not maintain the pace. And that was the end of the story.
The Renault boys were still fairly confident for the race.
"At the end the car balance was quite good," said Fisichella. "On my second lap we were quicker but I made a couple of mistakes in the first part of the lap, but we have a great pace for the race. The target is to be first into the first corner."
Alonso seemed a little glum, having had his best run ruined when he came up behind Nick Heidfeld.
"I caught him and lost half a second in the last sector," he said. "The car performed very well. We will be extremely competitive in the race."
The two McLaren-Mercedes were next up with Raikkonen ahead of Montoya and the indications are that they will be quick in the race while it is more difficult to judge the race speed of Ralf Schumacher and Mark Webber who qualified sixth and seventh. The BMWs were next, a better result than might have been expected. Jarno Trulli was the last man in the top 10 but did not run in the top 10 run-off because of a gearbox problem. With Villeneuve dropping away because of a 10-place penalty on the grid. This means that Michael Schumacher, who missed the cut in the second qualifying session because of the sudden rain flurry, will start 10th ahead of David Coulthard, in the fastest of the Red Bull-owned foursome, although not by much as Tonio Liuzzi was only two-tenths of a second behind, a very good effort with the Toro Rosso.
It was a bad day for Ferrari with Felipe Massa going off and hitting the wall in a bizarre incident which looked like a rear suspension failure but according to the team lost control when he ran over a kerb. He ended up 15th behind Christian Klien and Nico Rosberg, who struggled to get temperature into his tyres and missed out in the second qualifying session.
The worst disaster however befll Rubens Barrichello who was comprehensively blocked at a key moment by Yuji Ide in the Super Aguri. As a result the Brazilian failed to make it through the first qualifying session which means he will start 16th on the grid.