Miserable Michael in 10th on the grid

Michael Schumacher, Brazilian GP 2006

Michael Schumacher, Brazilian GP 2006 

 © The Cahier Archive

Until the beginning of the Q3 qualifying session Michael Schumacher was reigning imperiously over his peers at Interlagos. He was not going to be beaten. But then as the top 10 accelerated down the hill for the final 15 minutes, suddenly the Ferrari slowed. Was it a ploy? A weird strategy? The look on Ross Brawn's face said that this was neither. This was a crisis. Michael took more than two minutes to coax his car round to the pits and the Ferrari was pushed into the garage and men with twiddling devices twiddled in the engine area. Had the curse of Suzuka struck again? The twiddling went on and on and on and the clocked ticked undramatically towards the point at which it would be impossible for Michael to go out and set a lap. It was a race against the clock. A countdown.

And the question everyone was asking was whether this red rocket was going to blast off or be stranded on the launch pad.

When the clock reached 1m15s it was too late. Michael climbed from the car and walked away.

While all this was going on, the other teams were fighting it out for pole position. There was never much doubt that Felipe Massa would get it once Michael was out of the way and the local hero duly did the job. The crowd loved it, of course, all the more because Massa was wearing overalls in his national colours rather than the usual Ferrari red and white.

Massa was delighted. He was living every boy's dream.

"The car was fantastic," Felipe said. "The tyres are fantastic in the sunshine. I made a mistake in the last sector in the Q2 session but I feel quite strong. It's fantastic to be here and I am really happy."

As the dust settled and the disaster began to sink in for Ferrari. His fuel load is set and there is a question now as to whether or not the engine will have to be changed. If that happens he will start 20th. That will open the way for an amazing drive through the field but his chances of being able to take the title away from Fernando Alonso are slim at best.

For others Michael's problems were good news with Kimi Raikkonen second on the grid, his best showing for some time and third on the grid was Jarno Trulli in his Toyota. World Championship favourite Fernando Alonso was fourth. A good solid place to be so long as there is no hurly-burly in the first corner. Alonso needs just a point and starting fourth is the place to be.

Rubens Barrichello was fifth fastest in his Honda with Giancarlo Fisichella sixth ahead of Ralf Schumacher, Nick Heidfeld, Robert Kubica and Michael.

It is hard to know what to make of it all. Toyota has had a habit in recent races of running with low fuel loads and then disappearing down the field in the races. Is that the story again on this occasion or is the Toyota really a player? We will know that on Sunday.

On paper we should see Felipe Massa run away at the front of the field but with Michael needing to win the race, It could be that Felipe will be told to bottle up the field behind him so that Michael does not lose too much ground in the early laps of the race. That is a big responsibly for the Brazilian because if one of the other cars gets ahead he will have to abandon Michael and go after the man ahead, to try to give Ferrari more chance in the Constructors' title.

The tyres seem to be fairly evenly balanced in the temperatures seen on Saturday and with the forecast suggesting that it owuld be much the same on Sunday, there was little to be seen between them. The Ferrari is a quick car over one lap - and Michael did some impressive running on Saturday morning, suggesting that the Ferrari will still be the class of the field in race trim. But we have thought that before and Alonso has found a way ahead with more consistent runs.

The Q2 session had seen Michael at his fastest with a lap of 1m10.313s but there was bad news for Williams with Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg both being knocked out of the top 10 run-off. The two were split on this occasion by the second McLaren of Pedro de la Rosa. It was a disappointing result for him. Disappointeed too was Jenson Button who starts the race in 14th place ahead of Robert Doornbos's Red Bull and Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso both of which got through Q3, which does not happen every time.

The big loser in Q3 was David Coulthard, a depressing 19th on the grid in his Red Bull, behind both Scott Speed and Christijan Albers.

Behind David were two Super Aguris and Tiago Monteiro, who had a spin.

The stage is set for aa great battle on Sunday and there is a buzz at Interlagos. Will everyone play it straight? One cannot ever say for sure but monkey business in the race would be a very bad idea for Formula 1 - not that some of those involved care about the sport as a whole. The spotlight is on the sport tomorrow and we can only hope that everyone rises to the occasion and does not sink to the depths.