Hungarian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
A little more controversy was just what Formula 1 did not need on Saturday afternoon in Budapest. The sport has gone through the allegations of team orders in Monaco and the whole of the messy and acrimonious Stepneygate business and we were hoping that we could get back to some racing again. But no, the final moments of the qualifying session produced yet more controversy and it took until midnight to sort this one out. And when the decision came, Fernando Alonso saw his pole position disappear as he took a five place penalty on the grid.
For a change Ferrari was not involved. It had been a very poor performance from the Italian team with Felipe Massa embarrassed when his car ran out of fuel as he accelerated out of the pits towards the end of the Q2 session. The Brazilian was already struggling to get the Ferrari working to his satisfaction and somehow or other the mechanics forgot to put fuel into the car as they sent him on his way. One wonders if it might not be a good idea to get Nigel Stepney back in the team, as the team seems to have lost some of its organisation since he fell out with the team management. This meant that Massa had to go out without his tyres properly warmed up and he failed to get through to the top 10 qualifying run-off.
"We made a serious mistake in our management of the second qualifying session for Felipe," said the team's Luca Baldisserri. Massa would start 14th.
Kimi Raikkonen fared rather better but he ended up in fourth place on the grid, behind the BMW of Nick Heidfeld. Raikkonen accepted that the Ferraris were not in a position to match the one-lap pace of the McLarens around the Hungaroring but hoped that in race conditions, the team would be better off. Raikkonen had two decent runs in the final session but complained of huge amounts of understeer towards the end of each of the laps.
"It is a problem we have had all weekend," he said. "We have not managed to solve it."
Normally at the Hungaroring overtaking is a nightmare and starting on the dirty side of the track is also a problem and so being fourth on the grid was not the best place to be.
The big story, however, was in the McLaren camp where Fernando Alonso edged out team-mate Lewis Hamilton for pole position. The problem was that Alonso sat in the pits with Hamilton behind him for rather too long, which meant that Fernando got his final lap in and took pole but Hamilton arrived at the start-finish line to be greeted by the chequered flag. The British driver had seemed the man most likely to be on pole and it looked as though Alonso had deliberately messed it up for him. Hamilton was diplomatic but obviously not very happy.
"Nothing was said to me on the radio," he said. "I was obviously told on the way in that Fernando was doing his stop and I should back off, so I didn't end up having to queue. For some reason he was just held there. His wheels were on, his blankets were off and he was told to wait. I imagine that I probably lost half-a-minute waiting behind Fernando. It definitely needs a good explanation."
The team explained that Alonso had not held Hamilton up deliberately and that mistakes had been made.
"There are definite pressures in the team," Ron Dennis said. "We make no secret of that. They are very competitive. They both want to win and we are doing our very hardest to balance these pressures. We were part of a process that didn't work today."
Dennis explained that it was Alonso's turn to benefit from "the longer fuel burn" and that Hamilton should have slowed to allow Fernando to pass him in the Q3 session.
"He did not. He charged off," said Dennis. "That was somewhat disappointing and caused some tensions on the pit wall."
At the end of the session Alonso was being counted down by his engineer.
"He is under the control of that engineer," Dennis said. "He determined when he goes. That's the sequence and if you think that was a deliberate thing, then you can think what you want."
While all this was going on, no-one was paying much attention to Nick Heidfeld, who was third fastest in his BMW Sauber. Like many of the other drivers he was not sure whether to go for the softer tyres and hope that they would last for a lap or to use harder tyres and get a slower time.
"We decided to stay on the prime tyres," said the German. "It is going to be difficult with Kimi behind me but I guess the Ferraris are not as competitive as they have been in other races. We definitely have a good chance."
Things were not quite as good for Robert Kubica, who found himself in seventh place on the grid, half a second slower than his team-mate. The Pole had a software problem which meant that the car was not accelerating cleanly.
Nico Rosberg did well throughout the practice in his Williams-Toyota and he lined up fifth on the grid, just a tenth slower than Raikkonen's best
"I didn't expect to be that far up today," he admitted, "so I'm really happy that it all came together so well. We found a direction that seemed to suit the car and it just got better and better which meant I could really push. Our car also seems to work well on this kind of high downforce track which allows us to close the gap to the others."
Alexander Wurz ended up 13th, his progress not helped by a radio failure.
"We should have made it into Q3," he said. "I was competitive. I'm looking forward to a strong race tomorrow."
The factory Toyotas were both in the top 10 giving the team its best qualifying of the year with Ralf Schumacher sixth and Jarno Trulli ninth. This was a good effort but the team has yet to prove that it has the same kind of pace in the races, when the cars normally seen to fade back through the field.
Renault seemed to be struggling again after a better showing at the Nurburging, with Giancarlo Fisichella eighth and Heikki Kovalainen 12th. The Finn was disappointed.
"I still don't really understand what happened," he said. "Everything went fine in Q1 and then we put on the super soft compound for Q2 before going back to hard tyres. It seemed a logical decision but I couldn't find the same feeling: the car wasn't the same."
If nothing else Renault did manage to beat its customer Red Bull on this occasion with Mark Webber and David Coulthard 10th and 11th.
The best of the Hondas on this occasion was Anthony Davidson in his Super Aguri in 15th place, four places ahead of Takuma Sato.
"The car had a nice balance," said Anthony. "I was comfortably through to Q2 and looking forward to improving my position in the second session but I could only match the time. Fifteenth was the most the car had in it today."
The last of the men to make it through to Q2 was Tonio Liuzzi in his Toro Rosso. This was as good as the car was going to do and Sebastian Vettel was not able to get near Liuzzi's pace in qualifying, making a mistake at a key moment and so ending up 20th.
The factory Hondas were in a real mess with Jenson Button 17th and Rubens Barrichello 18th.
The drivers were disappointed and confused.
"The car felt reasonably good today," said Button. "We didn't expect to be in this position. It's strange to have a car which is feeling so consistent and to still not make it out of the first qualifying session. It seems to be a lack of efficient downforce which is affecting our pace."
Down at the back as usual were the two Spykers with Adrian Sutil's best time being all but matched by new boy Sakon Yamamoto.
"Sakon has done a very good job all day," said Mike Gascoyne. "His application and professionalism has been excellent and it was just disappointing that he was baulked on his last lap by Fisichella. He lost over half a second in Turns one and two compared to his first run."
The paddock was a lively place on Saturday evening as everyone discussed the latest excitement but as the evening wore on, the interest waned. It would be nice, we argued, to be able to concentrate on the racing for a change.
Hopefully Sunday would allow that.