French GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Massa - but only just
Felipe Massa took pole position for the French Grand Prix, apparently indicating a Ferrari revival after three races when the cars have been off the pace of the McLarens. The Ferraris were fastest throughout Friday but on Saturday morning Lewis Hamilton popped to the top of the charts with a time that was fractionally faster than Massa's best.
Hamilton reckoned that but for a mistake he would have been on the pole but as it turned out he was 0.07s slower than Felipe.
"You cannot be perfect all the time," said Hamilton. "I had a car to do pole but I lost a bit of time in Turn 15. I had it there and it would have been a mega-lap. I braked a bit late. That is the way it goes. We are on the front row and we have a good strategy and we will be very strong. It has been a steady weekend for us and we came into the qualifying with good pace and I believe that we have the pace of the Ferraris. We will see what happens tomorrow."
After difficult times, Massa was happy to be back in the limelight.
"It is definitely a good weekend," he said. "We are back and fighting. I am happy that we will have a good car tomorrow. On my first try I did a good lap and expected to improve on the second. On the second I overdrove a little bit and lost time. I tried to be be aggressive and that does not work. The car was better with more grip and was more consistent on scrubbed tyres. We managed to find the grip on the first lap which was the biggest problem in the last race."
Kimi Raikkonen was third and admitted that he had made a mistake on his best lap.
"I lost one corner on the last try," he said. "That was my fault. The car is good for the race. Anything came happen. It was not a perfect lap. A lot depends tomorrow on who is stopping when. We will see what happens."
The man missing from the fast bunch was Fernando Alonso. He had had a tough day with a brake problem in the morning and then gearbox trouble in the Q3 session which meant that he was not able to go out and set a time.
He ended up 10th on the grid and the chances are that this will mean that if the two men finish on Sunday Lewis will be able to extend his World Championship lead.
Fourth fastest was Robert Kubica, making his comeback after his Montreal crash and showing that there is no side-effects at all. He was two-tenths off the pace of Raikkonen and that seemed pretty much what one would have expected given the pace we have seen in recent races. Nick Heidfeld was seventh on this occasion but it had been a tough time for him. Friday had been spoiled by a muscle problem in his back and that evening he went off to hospital to have the problem treated. That was successful and he was back in the car on Saturday morning but the lack of running had been a disadvantage.
"Obviously Ferrari is stronger than us," he said. "And Renault has caught up too."
This being France, Renault was strong. The big question is whether the team really had made the progress or whether there is a bit of theatre going on. The team says that this is genuine progress.
"There is still some way to the front of the field, but at the moment, it's all positive news for us," said Pat Symonds. "This is our best qualifying result of the season and I am sure that our strategies are sensible."
Giancarlo Fisichella was fifth and Heikki Kovalainen sixth.
Toyota seemed much as usual with Jarno Trulli eighth and Ralf Schumacher 11th but one never really knows if this is representative pace as the news that Toyota chairman Katsuaki Watanabe will be at the race on Sunday might have persuaded the team to indulge in a little conjuring. It would not be the first time.
Honda had a similar situation with chief executive Takeo Fukui due to appear on Sunday as well, Japanese executives obviously liking visiting France.
The Hondas were 12th and 13th with Jenson Button ahead of Rubens Barrichello, the team talking about progress made in the last test. Sunday will reveal all.
Williams also reckoned that progress had been made since the North American races with a new aerodynamic package but Nico Rosberg was ninth. Alexander Wurz once again struggled to qualify well and ended up 18th.
On Friday Red Bull and Toro Rosso had looked very good indeed with the four cars all looking much faster than we have seen them of late. Toro Rosso had finally got the new gearbox that Red Bull Racing has been using for some time and that made a difference. Now David Coulthard and Mark Webber are going to have to work a bit harder to keep the Toro Rosso youngsters down. Fortunately they still have a slightly more advanced aero package than the sister cars. As it turned out all four ended up together on the grid with Mark Webber, Scott Speed, David Coulthard and Tonio Liuzzi lining up in positions 14-17. The drivers all had hard luck stories and if they can avoid colliding with one another on Sunday we should see some progress in the race.
Down the back we had the two Super Aguris and the two Spykers.