Malaysian GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Ferrari to the fore
Ferrari grabbed pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix with Felipe Massa well clear of his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen. The fact that neither man made any obvious mistake suggests that the Brazilian may have a lighter fuel load than the Finn, as in the Q2 session Kimi was three-tenths ahead of Massa. A few minutes later he was half a second behind and the only logical explanation of that was fuel.
It looked as though there were similar things happening at McLaren with Heikki Kovalainen faster than Lewis Hamilton. The two men were within a tenth of one another throughout but in the Q3 session Heikki was ahead. Was he there to cover Massa and leave Lewis to fight the championship battle with Kimi Raikkonen?
More importantly, however, were the Ferraris lighter than the McLarens?
McLaren's Ron Dennis made the point that theteam expected a stronger Ferrari, after the rout in Melbourne.
"We are comfortable with out race strategy," he said.
These things are hard to predict, but one thing that seemed a little strange after the qualifying was that neither Felipe Massa nor Kimi Raikkonen seemed particularly thrilled at the result. Normally, Felipe would be dancing about, particularly after the disappointments of Melbourne. Instead the pair seemed almost glum.
"Our championship is starting now," Massa remarked. "What happened in the last race was incredible. Now we can manage to put everything together to have a very consistent, good and quick championship."
Having said that Kovalainen was also talking down the McLaren challenge.
"We were hoping to do a couple of places better," he said, "but Ferrari have been very fast all weekend. We had nothing more to give. Third place was the best we could achieve today. We didn't see the true pace of Ferrari in Melbourne. This is more representative a read between the pace of the teams."
It was interesting also to see both Raikkonen and Hamilton working very hard to try to warm their tyres before their final runs.
Neither seemed happy.
"There did not seem to be as much grip in the tyres during the final session," Lewis said. "I struggled a bit. It was tough finding a gap in the traffic, which had an effect on my ability to warm up the brakes and manage the tyres. To be honest I didn't do a perfect job today and I will study the data to see how I can go faster tomorrow. We have to stay positive."
The remarks were mirrored by Kimi.
"I was not able to get the tyres to work as well as possible," he said. "The track seemed to be a bit more slippery and I was not able to get everything out of the car."
What was clear was that the two teams are still well ahead of everyone else, and the suspicion on Saturday night was that Ferrari had a slight advantage, at least over one lap.
It was quite a surprise to see the Toyota of Jarno Trulli in fifth place, but then the cars had been good in qualifying in Melbourne, even though neither Trulli nor Timo Glock made it to the finish. Trulli is always a great qualifier but it seems that the team is finally making progress.
"It is a big improvement compared to last year's car," said Trulli.
Tim Glock was also doing well, making it into the top 10 in Q2 but he struggled in the final session, unable to get heat into his tyres.
The BMW Saubers were not as quick as they seemed to be in Australia but they were still in a good position with Robert Kubica sixth and team-mate Nick Heidfeld seventh. The two men wereless than a tenth off Hamilton's pace and so the final result did not look good, but the laps times were much more impressive than they seemed. Heidfeld had to work his way through the traffic on his fianl lap and the FIA stewards were soon looking into that, but the impeding rules these days are looking more and more absurd.
Mark Webber was eighth quickest in his Red Bull but the team was not having a good weekend after Coulthard's incident on Friday, after which the FIA began to ask questions about the cars. On Saturday morning the FIA reported that they would continue to keep watch.
David Coulthard was 12th on the grid, but said that he was not concerned by the questions being raised about the RB4.
"As a racing driver you never think you're going to have a car failure," he said. You don't think about it and I have complete faith in the team."
The failure of Coulthard's track road on Friday was traced to a manufacturing problem.
Renault was ninth and 13th with Fernando Alonso ahead, as one would expect. The cars were still a long way from the pace, but at least Fernando was in the Q3 session. For Piquet the performance was a step forward after a miserable Melbourne, a good sign as he is clearly not allowing himself to lose heart.
Honda was struggling a little more than in Melbourne but both Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello did a decent job with Button 11th and Barrichello 14th. If Jenson had lapped a tenth quicker he would have been in Q3. Barrichello missed out on running in the morning because of worries over his gearbox which meant that Button did his set-up work for him and Rubens had to drive the car that was presented to him for qualifying.
Scuderia Toro Rosso did not look as good as it had done in Melbourne with Sebastian Vettel qualifying 15th and Sebastien Bourdais back in 19th.
"I think we did pretty much the best we could," Vettel said. "But I made a mistake."
Bourdais was having another difficult weekend, although good fortune in Melbourne made him look quite good.
"The stars do not seem to be aligning in our favour," he said.
There were troubles too at Williams with Nico Rosberg reporting that the grip was not what he had expected and that meant that heating up the tyres was a problem. That was reflected in qualifying where he ended up 16th. Kazuki Nakajima's hopes were already in trouble because of the 10-place grid penalty he brought with him from Australia. He qualified 18th but would start 22nd and last.
The Force India and Super Aguri teams failed to get out of Q1 but that was not really a surprise. Giancarlo Fisichella came closest, while Adrian Sutil was nearly a second off his pace. For Super Aguri it was Takuma Sato four-tenths up on Anthony Davidson.
Rains was forecast by some for Sunday and in the evening it began to rain on Sepang, although the attention rested firmly on the FIA Stewards, who spent the early evening trying to decide whether to punish cars for getting in the way of others in Q3.
It seemed somehow inevitable that this involved the McLarens.