Monaco GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Alonso tops the timesheets
Fernando Alonso took pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix but with the weather on Sunday uncertain in the Monaco area, it was no guarantee that this would aid the Spaniard as he tries to close the gap on Lewis Hamilton in the World Championship.
Alonso's young team mate made a strong showing, but had his own challenges: "I was three-tenths up on my previous best and I was held up by Webber. I don't know if he saw me. I lost half a second behind him but I managed to pull it back to within a tenth but after that the tyres were gone. The car felt great. It was exactly the same time I did on heavy fuel. So we did a good job and I am happy with that. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. We want to finish the race in the points and continue as we have been going this season."
Felipe Massa ended up third fastest in his Ferrari but it was not a good day for Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen was way back down the grid after damaging his car over a kerb in the Q2 session. This cause Kimi to come to a stop in Rascasse, in a move that was oddly reminiscent of Michael Schumacher's appalling parking job 12 months ago. On this occasion Raikkonen had an excuse as there was a problem with the steering. Ferrari was actually rather lucky as Massa arrived on the scene at high speed and almost ran into his team-mate's car. In the end he was parked for a few seconds alongside Raikkonen and we wondered if we were seeing double.
"I saw the yellow flag but I had a little bit of a moment," Massa admitted. "But I managed to pass Kimi without touching him and so the final qualifying was not so bad. In the end I did a good lap. The racing always creates some surprises here so hopefully we can have a good race and try to score as many points as possible."
Alonso was thus best placed for the race.
"This is a very important pole position," he said. "There was a little bit of everything going on. We were expecting rain at the start but that only affected one lap and then we were at normal speeds as usual. Monaco is very stressful for everyone. I lost time with Nico. He was unlucky really he did a very good out lap and crossed the line with just a second to go but he had held me up in the last three or four corners. All weekend has been good for us and the car seems very competitive but you know Monaco is a very special race. It could be very difficult. Starting from pole is good but it is a very long race. And the weather is changing so much."
The biggest surprise of qualifying was that Giancarlo Fisichella was fourth for Renault, a far better performance than we have seen from Renault in other races.
"This was a very good day for us," Fisichella said. "The team has been working night and day to improve the performance of the R27, and this is another concrete sign that we are getting there. The car wasn't perfect at the start of qualifying, but we made some small changes to the balance, and it was handling really well during the final part. We are definitely moving in the right direction."
Nico Rosberg was fifth quickest in his Williams, a further indication that the car is quicker than the results have thus far suggested. The fact that Alexander Wurz again failed to get out of the Q2 session is not a good sign for the Austrian veteran. One can only be unlucky so many times without people asking questions.
Mark Webber was next in his Red Bull, underlining the progress that is being made at the team, but the Australian had actually been slower in Q2 than David Coulthard. The problem was that David was kicked out of the top 10 run-off by the FIA Stewards for blocking Heikki Kovalainen. DC was on a warming up and Heikki was on a flyer and there was no doubt that it hurt the Finn. One cannot invent a good lap time for the injured party but one can punish the perpetrator and Coulthard found himself dumped back to 16th on the grid and was not allowed to run in the top 10.
The BMWs have looked like a bit of a handful all weekend, with the cars seeming to be very sensitive over the bumps. Nick Heidfeld has handled this with finesse while Kubica adopted a rather more combative style and looked like an accident about to happen but his car control was such that he held it all together and the pair ended up seventh and eighth, showing that both styles will work, at least in the qualifying. In the race, the gymnastic approach may be more costly.
There was another surprise with the two Hondas ninth and 10th, indicating that the team has made progress. Barrichello made it into the top 10 on merit but Jenson Button snuck in thanks to Coulthard's indiscretion and they ended up ninth and 10th on the grid.
The Q2 session put paid to the efforts of Wurz, Jarno Trulli, the unfortunate Kovalainen and Raikkonen but also Tonio Liuzzi.
The Italian will start 12th on the grid, which was a great effort for a Toro Rosso. Most impressively, however, he had ended the Q1 session fourth fastest, behind the two McLarens and Raikkonen but ahead of Massa and the rest of them. That was an extraordinary performance. For the final run the team decided to change the front wing and it was all a bit rushed in the final moments of the session. This may have been planned but it looked a little hand-to-mouth. Despite that Liuzzi had made the point. Here is a man who ought to be under scrutiny as the F1 circus heads into the 2007 Silly Season.
We lost both Super Aguris and both Spykers in the Q1 session and Ralf Schumacher too. None of this was very surprising, given that these days Ralf is not looking like a driver who should be paid a lot of money.
And so we go into a race that promises to be good - even if the weather does not intervene...