Australian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Kimi by a country mile
Kimi Raikkonen gave notice of his intentions this year by taking pole in Melbourne by half a second. Felipe Massa in the second Ferrari had gone with a gearbox problem in the Q2 session and so the fight to be first bridesmaid went to Fernando Alonso in the McLaren but the gap was half a second which is a clear indication of the state of affairs. Ferrari is going to be the team to beat this year - and that's official!
The fight for second place is going to be fascinating but the other teams have a lot to do to close the gap.
The qualifying session began with a big crowd, despite the many critics in the Australia media, the people turned up in force.
The Q1 session resulted in some surprises. Raikkonen was fastest by two-tenths but the sensation was Lewis Hamilton second quickest in his McLaren ahead of Robert Kubica, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa. Nick Heidfeld was sixth and there was a surprise to see local hero Mark Webber next in the Red Bull, a great effort considering that David Coulthard ended the session being one of the six cars that failed to make the cut. There was rejoicing down at Super Aguri as Anthony Davidson once again showed the speed of the car with seventh and then came a surprise: Jarno Trulli's Toyota, a completely unexpected showing after weeks during which the Toyota team looked pretty unimpressive. Giancarlo Fisichella was next in the Renault and then came Ralf Schumacher underlining Trulli's showing. Takuma Sato also underlined the performance of Super Aguri in 11th ahead of Alexander Wurz in the Williams and Heikki Kovalainen in the second Renault. Jenson Button monstered his Honda to 13th with Nico Roberg 14th.
Down at the back we lost Rubens Barrichello in the second Honda, Scott Speed and Tonio Liuzzi in the Toro Rossos, Coulthard's Red Bull and the two Spykers.
Q2 began badly for Toyota as Jarno Trulli left the pits dragging a jack behind him. Ralf Schumacher then slowed and did a very long lap with some kind of technical problem. The first serious time came from Kubica but he was soon beaten by Hamilton and Alonso could not match it. And then Massa slowed. This was a disaster for Maranello. Felipe tried to get the car round to the end of the lap but stopped halfway round. Alonso went fastest in the closing stages but Hamilton and Raikkonen did not bother to run again so Nick Heidfeld was second. Hamilton, Raikkonen and Kubica were followed by Fisichella, Webber, Trulli and Schumacher, who made a good recovery after his problem, with Sato being the last to make the top 10.
Gone was Anthony Davidson, the two Williamses, a rather disappointing Kovalainen, Button and Massa.
And so to the final Q3 fight and it was not until five minutes to go that we had the first serious times with Fisichella setting the ball rolling with a 1m27.925s. Then came Hamilton with a 1m27.190s, beaten moments later by Alonso (but only by a tenth) and then Raikkonen blitzed them all by a full second. A lap of 1m26.072s was a clear message. Heidfeld weighed in with a 1m26.782s, which took second and then we had the lull as the cars went in to pitlane to get the final tyres and go for it. Hamilton set the pace this time with third place with a 1m16.755s while Alonso took his time down to 1m26.493s. Raikkonen did not improve but then he did not need to and it was left to Heidfeld to grab the third spot from Hamilton by two-tenths.
Kubica might have done better than fifth but made a mistake on his final flyer but there was then a big gap back to Fisichella, Webber (who was probably running light), Trulli and Schumacher and Sato.
Raikkonen was his usual unexpressive self but made a good point about the performance of the Ferraris.
"I think we have a good race package," he said. "We are more confident for the race than for qualifying and if everything works well we should be OK. But many things can happen."
Alonso was glad to be second rather than third behind Massa but admitted that there is still work to do.
"The team has done a fantastic job in the winter to make the car competitive," he said. "They have made a huge step forward and the drivers need to say thanks to the people at the factory. We have been very competitive all weekend."
Heidfeld was happy but realistic as well.
"You never know until you get to the first race," he said. "It is fantastic to be here. Ferrari is still ahead. I am a bit surprised that Renault was not quicker today but we will see tomorrow in the race. We don't know how things are going because we don't know how much fuel people are running."
Quite so, but can anyone beat the Ferrari?