French GP - Saturday - Qualifying Session Report
Ferrari looks set to run away with the race on Sunday in Magny-Cours after a dominant performance in qualifying for the French Grand Prix. Pole position went to Kimi Raikkonen, but the margin to his team-mate Felipe Massa was just a fraction of a second behind him, explaining that he been pushing just a little too hard. It was Ferrari's 200th pole position, not that these things matter with the current rules meaning that position is not as significant as once it was.
Lewis Hamilton was a disappointment. Going into the weekend, knowing that he had a 10 place grid penalty was not easy but McLaren did not go for a fancy light fuel load because the car would have to start with the fuel it qualified with. In this situation logic dictates that the team run the car as heavy as possible so tht Lewis can go for a long first stint in orer to make up places. In the circumstances to get to within two-tenths of pole position was a very good achievement and Hamilton could be in with a chance of some decent points if he can stay out of trouble in the early laps. Hamilton will start 13th, unless there are other penalties for gearbox changes and so on overnight.
Fernando Alonso was fourth fastest for Renault and with a gap of four-tenths from pole this was probably a relatively light car, as one would expect to see the Renaults behind the BMW Saubers. Nonetheless this was the kind of result that Renault likes to have in front of the Renault-buying home crowd, and with Hamilton's penalty the blue and yellow car will look competitive when the TV cameras are rolling on Sunday. Nelson Piquet was 11th on the timesheets and would be 10th on the grid. This was better than usual but not as good as the showboating on Saturday morning. Perhaps that was designed to give him more confidence, which seems to be the problem. One way or another, however, the Brazilian needs a major result if he wishes to avoid losing his job in the next few weeks.
Jarno Trulli was fifth fastest in the session and would start fourth, a good performance for Toyota, although the cars rarely if ever race as well as they qualify. With Timo Glock ninth on the grid the Toyota team looked well-placed to score points on Sunday.
The second McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen was fifth on the grid, half a second down on Hamilton, which seems to suggest that he is running at least as heavy as Hamilton, and perhaps even heavier.
Seeing Robert Kubica down in sixth on the grid was a little odd, but once again the fuel queston may be the key. Odder still was the sight of Nick Heidfeld in 11th, having failed to get through Q2. Clearly, despite the great result in Canada, Heidfeld is still not very comfortable with the car.
The two Red Bull-Renaults of Mark Webber and David Coulthard lined up seventh and eighth on the grid, which suggested a good deal of promise on Sunday, so long as the two drivers avoid hitting one another.
Toro Rosso ended up with Sebastian Vettel 12th and Sebastien Bourdais 14th, the pair being split on the grid by the penalised Hamilton. This was pretty much where one would expect to see cars tht are identical but underdeveloped versions of the two Red Bulls.
Nico Rosberg qualified 15th but with his penalty from Canada he was due to start at the back, which meant that his team-mate Kazuki Nakajima moved up into his starting position. Behind them were two Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, a miserable performance for the team, with the two Force Indias at the back with Giancarlo Fisichella only just ahead of Adrian Sutil.