FRENCH GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT
Red right, blue blue
Michael Schumacher led Felipe Massa to a Ferrari 1-2 in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, outpacing Fernando Alonso's Renault. Schumacher was a tenth fastest than his Brazilian team mate and the two men were a further two-tenths clear of Alonso. It was never really cool at Magny-Cours during the practice days but it was clear that the hotter it got the better the Bridgestones became. On Saturday afternoon temperatures were up in the range of 95-deg F and the bad news for the Michelin runners was that the weather forecast for Sunday was more of the same thing. Perhaps the only hope for the Michelin men was that things would get so hot that the Ferraris would fail. On Saturday morning that happened when some heat-shield material broke near the Ferrari exhaust, causing a small fire. The team had to work hard over the lunchtime period to fix the problem and then Michael went out and nailed pole position. Massa, too, had problems to overcome as his clutch was misbehaving in the morning and needed fixing. It was a rush to get it all done in the time available but Ferrari came through.
If there was any doubt that Bridgestone had an advantage it was dispelled by the fact that Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher were fourth and fifth for Toyota and there was a Williams in the top 10 as well. Apart from Alonso, the fastest Michelin runner was Kimi Raikkonen in sixth place in his McLaren, eight-tenths off the pole position time.
"I am happy to be third," Alonso said. "I did the maximum possible. We saw in the times that it is not possible to catch Ferrari over one lap so this is the best possible position I could get. It is true that at this temperature the Bridgestone cars worked quite well. We will see what happens tomorrow."
The World Champion added that the Michelins do have "fantastic" consistency which means that it may be possible for Renault to outrun Renault in the race, although much will depend on strategies and what happens in the early laps.
Schumacher admitted that in the morning he had been "a bit concerned" about the problems with his car but we delighted with the outcome.
"It was pretty impressive work by the mechanics," he said.
Massa was again impressive alongside his team leader, getting to within 0.017s of Michael, and looking like as man who is growing in stature all the time.
"It was a great qualifying," he said. "A great qualifying for us. Here the new tyres make a big difference and it is good to have one or two new sets to use in the race."
The performance of the two Toyotas was not really a big surprise as the cars have shown themselves to be quick in qualifying for some time but the question remains over what they can do in the races. In recent months those behind Toyotas in the races have tended to be stuck there and end up unable to play a role in the race and thus it must be a worry for McLaren to have Raikkonen sixth. He will need to get a good start if he is to do anything exciting on Sunday. With Giancarlo Fisichella seventh and Pedro de la Rosa eighth (in the second McLaren), the race looked like being a straight fight between Alonso and the two Ferraris.
The top 10 was completed by Nico Rosberg's Williams (which has to drop 10 places on the grid because of an engine change) and David Coulthard's Red Bull. With Rosberg dropping down the grid Mark Webber will start 10th, having qualified 11th, and it will be interesting to see the size of the fuel load in the Williams to see just where Williams is in the F1 hierarchy after the disastrous race at Indianapolis. What the team needs now is a decent result to lift spirits and alter perceptions. Formula 1 is a world where a team can be a hero one week and zero the next and it will be interesting to see how Williams come out of the weekend as it has been a long time since the team scored a point.
Qualifying was a mess for BMW after the cars had been quick throughout practice. Nick Heidfeld ended up 12th on the grid while the team underestimated the lap times in the Q1 and ended up not getting through, a fate that also befell Jenson Button. This is the second time the Honda team has made the same mistake so clearly there is a need for some changes in the way things are done.