GERMAN GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT
One for the bosses?
Kimi Raikkonen surprised everyone with pole position at the German Grand Prix, the first such achievement this year by a McLaren, and while it would be logical to suggest that perhaps this had something to with the fact that Hockenheim is not a million miles from Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart, Raikkonen himself suggested that the car was better than it has been and that he might be able to make an impact in the race. Thus far this season McLaren has normally run with conservative strategies, with larger fuel loads than its rivals but at the recent French GP the team changed tactics and adopted a more aggressive approach - and the results were better and so that may explain the sudden burst of speed.
Raikkonen was pushing hard and went off on his final lap and there is a hope that this was the Finn pushing to the absolute limit with a big fuel load. If not then there is little hope for a serious challenge on Sunday - unless Raikkonen can make a break and leave Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa behind. If not the McLaren will simply be swallowed up by the Ferraris at the first pit stops.
Schumacher and Massa were second and third on the grid and looked very strong in the Q2 session and indeed when doing long runs on Saturday morning. Schumacher complained of understeer but reckoned that by Sunday the track would improve with all the rubber being put down.
There were two notable surprises in the session: the poor showing of the Renaults with Giancarlo Fisichella in fifth and Fernando Alonso in seventh. The cars did not a patch on what they have been thus far this year but one must remember that Renault is now in a very conservative phase as all the team needs to do is minimise the points loss to Schumacher at each race and thus a heavy fuel load makes sense, particularly as Renaults are still among the quickest cars off the line at the start of a race and overtaking is tough. Having said that the cars were not very quick in the Q2 session so things may simply be as bad as they seem.
The second surprise was the performance of Honda which qualified Jenson Button fourth and Rubens Barrichello sixth. The team said that this was the result of a programme of changes begun earlier this year which has now come together and if this proves to be the case - and the cars are reliable - we could see some serious points being scored by the Hondas in the races to come.
The top 10 was completed by Ralf Schumacher, Pedro de la Rosa and David Coulthard's Red Bull-Ferrari but there was some controversy there as Ralf at one point seemed not to be paying attention and drove into Pedro, punting the Spaniard into a spin and damaging one of the McLaren's wheels. De la Rosa was obviously rather steamed up about this and later had a fairly wild lap as he tried to make up ground. Later in the session Ralf came out of his garage and gave Button a shock as it seemed that the Toyota driver had not looked. Funnily enough Michael Schumacher had Alonso waving at him from the Renault cockpit for a similar manoeuvre, something that Michael shrugged off as being the result of the busy pits and the fact that there is not much room at Hockenheim. In making his excuses Schumacher may have helped hasten the demise of the place which is not expected to have any more Grands Prix in the short term. Hockenheim is short of cash and with the F1 group keen to drop a German race it is anticipated that next year the German GP switch to the Nurburgring and the European GP will drop from the calendar.