SPANISH GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT
Fernando's homage to Catalunya
The Spaniards headed out of the Barcelona circuit on Saturday afternoon happy with what they had seen. Their hero Fernando Alonso was on pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix. Alonso is keen to stop Michael Schumacher's recent run of success and his adoring public are in favour of this plan. The problem, however, is that while Alonso and his Renault team mate Giancarlo Fisichella are 1-2 on the grid there are a number of reasons why this might have happened and no-one is quite sure. It could be that in the week since the Nurburgring Renault has moved further into the development of flexible wings that appear to now be legal, at least until someone goes too far and the whole thing blows up into another F1 scandal. It could be due to the fact that the Michelin tyres on the Renaults are better than the Bridgestone-shod Ferraris. But then, of course, it might also be down to the fact that Renault is running its cars lighter than the Ferraris and intends to win the race using a strategy that will see Alonso power off at the start and Fisichella will struggle to keep up and at the same time will find himself getting in the way of Michael Schumacher. The thing is that on Saturday night no-one really knew the answer to the question. What they did know was that in the race overtaking would not be easy because all the F1 drivers know this track so well that making mistakes is not very likely. This does not mean that the race will be dull: we have had a couple of really thrilling races in recent weeks, despite the fact that overtaking has been very limited. What we do know is that if the Ferrari is quick in the race Fernando Alonso will happily settle for second place because his early season points-advantage is such that if they go on finishing 1-2 it will be Hungary in August before Michael overtake the Renault star. Alonso knows that consistency is what wins races.
If Alonso wins and Michael is second Alonso's lead will still be there in September.
The Ferrari team was keen to point out that Michael has given up some of his pace in qualifying in order to be stronger in the race.
"It is all about the strategy," said Michael. "We knew we might have a little sacrifice for qualifying but we have a very strong race pace and that's what we have to concentrate on. We knew that when we started the weekend."
The difference between this race and the ones in recent weeks is that Giancarlo Fisichella is between the two men on the grid and if Fisichella makes a decent start this could be hugely significant in the outcome of the race as Michael Schumacher may get rather frustrated watching Alonso disappearing up the road and will thus be very keen to make a good start and even more committed to passing the Roman driver. What Schumacher cannot really afford is to trip over Fisichella as he tries to get ahead.
Felipe Massa is there too - in fourth on the grid - but it is unlikely that he will play anything other than a bit part in the drama on Sunday as the second Ferrari driver rarely gets to outrace the leading car.
Further interest will be added with the Hondas and Toyotas that line up fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth on the grid. Rubens Barrichello is the fastest of the quartet, ahead of Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli and Jenson Button. The order may well have been decided by the fuel loads as both teams have had a tendency in recent weeks to run the cars light in the races.
This means that McLaren might be more of a factor in the race although the team is playing down that idea with a rather downbeat report of qualifying.
"We are not where we want to be," said Kimi Raikkonen, blaming traffic on his first flying lap. "We seem to be lacking qualifying pace, but will see what we can do in the race tomorrow to improve our positions as our race pace is better than our qualifying speed."
Perhaps this is a bluff. Perhaps not.
We know that Juan Pablo Montoya is rather more disappointed as his efforts were spoiled in the Q2 session when there was a refuelling problem and his tyres lost their heat and that meant that Montoya did not even get into the Q3 session. This means that he will fill his car full of fuel and go for a long first stint and that is a strategy that may bear front.
It might also work well for Mark Webber, who qualified his Williams in 11th place and thus is the best placed to use such a strategy. Webber's problem of late has not been speed but rather reliability and one wonders whether this will be the weekend on which his fortunes change. The Australian is long overdue a decent result.
The other man who is in there in the mix is Nick Heidfeld, who took his BMW Sauber to 10th on the grid, albeit with lap times in Q3 that were a long way from the pace of the fast men, which suggest that he too may have a lot of fuel on board.
Of the rest there was little really to report. Those who failed to get through to Q3 were Webber, Montoya, Nico Rosberg, Jacques Villeneuve, Christian Klien and Tonio Liuzzi. The only big news in Q1 was that David Coulthard crashed his Red Bull and so starts from the back.
"There was failure on the car," he said. "Turn Three is not a difficult corner, even when you're flat out, and I was on an out lap and not pushing hard at all. Something failed at the rear of the car and it just went away from me."
Scott Speed, Tiago Monteiro, Christijan Albers, Takuma Sato and Franck Montagny were pretty much where one would expect to find them.
The only twist will be that Villeneuve must take a 10-slot drop on the grid and so will line up at the back.