United States GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
McLaren drivers play cat and mouse
The gamblers in Formula 1 were pretty sure that Fernando Alonso would be on pole position for the United States Grand Prix. Fernando was fastest on Friday morning, on Friday afternoon and then again on Saturday morning. Sure enough, come Q1, there was the World Champion at the top of the hit parade. In Q2 he did it again with all the fuel out of the cars. And then in Q3, he got beaten by Lewis Hamilton.
It is true that Lewis was learning as he went along.
"Each time I go out, I improve," he said.
That was one possible explanation. The other was that Alonso had taken on additional fuel and was thus going to be starting the race with a better strategy. That might also explain the situation.
Who could tell?
Fernando said afterwards that he was happy and would be having a strong race. Was he bluffing?
Or was Hamilton light?
We would not discover that until Sunday but what we did see was that once again McLaren is ahead of the game. This time the Ferraris seemed better there was still a gap of four-tenths of a second from Hamilton to Felipe Massa. But just because the BMWs were not there ahead of the Ferraris did not mean that Maranello had taken a step forward. There was disappointment down at BMW.
Heidfeld said that the car seemed to be less well balanced than it had been. He had had some trouble with tyres graining and they could not cope with what he asked them to do and he slid off the line a little more than he intended.
"Otherwise," he said. "I could have qualified in front of the Ferraris."
The Ferrari men preferred to look at the situation as an improvement but that may not be the case at all.
"The second row is not a disaster," said Massa. "We expected to be a little bit better here than in Canada and we are, but I don't know if it is enough to win the race tomorrow."
That seemed rather improbable.
Another reason for BMW disappointing was the fact that Robert Kubica was not taking part, the FIA having decided not to allow him to race. BMW shipped in test driver Sebastian Vettel and he rose to the occasion well and ended up seventh on the grid, a good effort for any rookie.
The final Q3 session was strange in that there were two distinct groups of cars - presumably based on their strategies. This might have explained Heikki Kovalainen being sixth, a far better performance than we are used to seeing from the Finn. If he was running light and Giancarlo Fisichella was running heavy, it would explain why Heikki was sixth and Fizzy 10th, the pair split by six-tenths of a second.
Jarno Trulli will be heavy. The Toyota got through Q2 and when that happens the team almost always goes long of the fuel in order to try to make up for deficiencies in the design. Trulli is a great qualifier but rarely races as well so it will be interesting to see what Toyota can achieve. Ralf Schumacher was 12th on the grid, a much better performance than has been the norm of late. It is amazing how some drivers improve when they feel their jobs are in danger.
Mark Webber was also able to get into the top 10 with his Red Bull but he too looked like a man with a big fuel load.
David Coulthard went out in Q2, complaining that the car was not handling well.
In the midfield there is little room for any error. Behind the top three teams there is a gap and then things are very close. There were 11 cars covered by seven-tenths in Q2 and that means that a blink can make the difference between what looks like a good performance and something that seems disappointing. Such is the nature of the beast.
Thus the two Hondas, the Williamses, the Toyotas, the Renaults, the Red Bulls, the Toro Rossos and the Super Aguris tend to seem to fluctuate hugely. An extra two-tenths of a second, for example, would have lifted Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso from 19th to 12th.
Williams, which has looked very competitive at some races, looked bad with 14th and 17th but were things really as bad as they seemed?
The nice thing about about Indianapolis is that overtaking is possible and so we will see more on Sunday.