Spanish GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Felipe spoils Fernando's day
Felipe Massa headed into the Spanish Grand Prix with the opportunity to add second victory to his win in Bahrain. And if he does that he will become, almost overnight a serious candidate for the World Championship. Coming into the season the conventional logic was that it would be Kimi Raikkonen who would lead the Ferrari challenge but in recent races it is Massa who seems the stronger of the two Ferrari drivers. He is still suffering from a bad race in Australia but another win will put him into the hunt.
The other message that came out of qualifying in Barcelona is that despite what looked like a big jump forward from Ferrari, the fight between Ferrari and McLaren is tighter than ever. Massa's pole position was just a few hundredths faster than Alonso's best and there was then a gap of three-tenths to Raikkonen but the Finn was just a fraction ahead of Hamilton. The big question of course is how much fuel the top four men have in their cars. That is never easy to judge but one hint was that in the Q2 session Massa was two-tenths ahead of Hamilton, which would seem to suggest that the Ferrari might have more fuel in Q3, but whatever the case there was not much in it.
It seems fair to say that the winner of the Spanish GP will come from this quartet.
"I am really happy to see the job the team has done," Massa said. "We are very competitive with McLaren. They have been a bit quicker sometimes this weekend but I am really happy to be first in qualifying and looking forward to an important race. The result is very tight."
Massa admitted that it had not been easy.
"My first try was a disaster. I made so many mistakes and I had some cars in front of me," he said. "But on the final try I managed to put a lap together. Everybody was under pressure but I managed to do it with the last set of tyres. We made a good improvement in the car since Bahrain but McLaren has as well so we need to keep working hard and improve the car some more."
For the Spanish fans there was disappointment but Alonso seemed to be happy with the result, perhaps because he had beaten Lewis Hamilton.
"It is a good weekend for us so far," he said. "The car is performing really well and the first row is confirmation of the competitive pace we have had all weekend. Hopefully we can see a very good race. It was a really close fight and that is confirmation of how tight things are. There was nothing more I could get from the car. Both my qualifying laps were pretty good, so we will see tomorrow."
Behind the big four there was a gap of half a second to the BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica, who managed to edge out Jarno Trulli's Toyota and Nick Heidfeld's BMW. The pace of Trulli was a surprise, particularly given that Ralf Schumacher had failed to get his Toyota through the Q1 session. The problem for the team is that the cars always seem to go well in qualifying but can rarely keep the pace in the race and tend to drift back through the order as more consistent runners come through.
The BMWs will be strong challengers for points and if there are problems up front are in position to get on to the podium, which will be suitable reward for the progress the team has made in the last six months.
The final three runners in the top 10 run-off were all Renault-powered and clearly things are improving in the Renault camp with Heikki Kovalainen eighth and Giancarlo Fisichella 10th. Between the two was David Coulthard in the Red Bull car, evidence that things are improving at Milton Keynes now that the team has the seamless gearbox.
Coulthard was disappointed with the result.
"I think the car is quicker than that," he said. "I suffered a lot of understeer which made it very difficult."
It was all rather better than Mark Webber's afternoon, which ended after the Q1 session with the Australian in 19th place on the grid, as a result of a hydraulic failure. This is not the first such failure that the team has encountered and clearly there needs to be some serious work needed there.
The Q2 session eliminated Nico Rosberg, the four Honda-powered cars and Tonio Liuzzi, who did a decent job getting out of Q1 in his Toro Rosso but then had to sit out the session because of a gearbox problem. This had sidelined Scott Speed in Q1 and meant that he did not even set a time.
For Williams there was trouble (again) for Alexander Wurz.
"It was a bit of disaster, worse than a traffic jam on the M25 in London. People really slowed down on their in-laps and seemed to forget that other people were still around them doing quick laps!" he said. "At the last chicane I actually nearly stopped because five cars were in front of me going so slowly."
The Honda forces were led on this occasion by Rubens Barrichello with Takuma Sato next, Jenson Button and Anthony Davidson. The two Super Aguris should have gone better based on their pace in earlier sessions but Sato stopped with a fuel pick-up problem and Davidson failed to get a flying lap, spinning off when he was caught out by the wind.
As the crowds dispersed on Saturday afternoon, there was much excitement amongst the Spanish fans.
We hoped that we would get a race to remember.