Italian GP 2008
SEPTEMBER 13, 2008
Qualifying Report - Saint Sebastian
There are some who think that Formula 1 would benefit from the tracks being sprayed with water at random moments. They are probably right. Whether that turns the sport into a circus is another argument but if entertainment is the only criterion then qualifying at Monza was a good example of what can happen. There is a difference between rain and sprinkler systems and on Saturday afternoon there was a big element of luck involved as well as skill and judgement. Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen were not lucky. They did not get their laps done early enough, or messed them up with the wrong choice of tyres, and as they tried to pick up the pieces the rains intensified and that meant that there was no way that they could do anything and so the pair ended up in 14th and 15th on the grid. That might not be a problem at most tracks but at Monza the tradition in dry races in recent years had been that there is no overtaking. Thus the two men could only hope for a wet race on Sunday. The bad news for the other World Championship challengers was that their tasks would not be much easier. Felipe Massa made it through to Q3 but the Ferrari was a real handful and so ended up sixth on the grid. Robert Kubica, the man who is fourth in the Drivers' World Championship, was 11th on the grid.
With all these mishaps going on the honour of taking pole position was left open to the man who made the fewest mistakes. One might have expected Heikki Kovalainen to be free and away at the front but he was outshone by Sebastian Vettel in his Toro Rosso. Adrian Newey's design was obviously a pretty forgiving car in the wet because there were three of them in the top four: Vettel was on pole, Mark Webber third and Sebastien Bourdais fourth.
For those with a racing soul, a pole position for Vettel at Monza was an uplifting story. The team has changed much in recent years - and not always for the better - but the heart of the organisation is still stamped with the word "Minardi" and as the mechanics jumped about with glee one got the feeling that years of worthless struggle had somehow become worthwhile. Racing about emotion and it was flowing from the Toro Rosso on Saturday afternoon.
Vettel had become the youngest ever F1 poleman, eclipsing a record set a few years back by Fernando Alonso. He was bubbling.
"I didn't expect it today," he said. "Doing it here in Italay is also amazing. There are two Italian teams: Ferrari is the bigger one, but I think today people will also know about Scuderia Toro Rosso. Already it's great just to be part of Formula 1, but to be sitting in the top spot is fantastic."
It had not been easy.
"It was very difficult to see anything out there," said Vettel. "I think all the drivers did a good job to avoid any incidents. We improved the car a lot and I was very happy with it this morning and when you feel confident in your car then that is the key. I think we did the right thing to go out and do a few laps, rather than just focus on trying for one quick one."
Engineer Giorgio Ascanelli was keen to make sure that everyone understood that the enxt step may be a rather big one to take.
"Of course, it's obvious we haven't got the heavist fuel load in the world," he said. "Now we must hope for a competitive race for tomorrow."
Sebastien Bourdais ended up fourth, a good result for him.
"It was a bit crazy out there," he said, having had a very large spin, fortunately without hitting anything. "Given how things went in the dry in practice I certainly could not have hoped for better than this. These conditions equalize everything and if you have a good feeling in the car then you can attack. That is what we did and it paid offer."
Mark Webber was third quickest in the Red Bull Red Bull (rather than the Toro Rosso Red Bull).
"I didn't have a very good run on my first lap in Q3 and thought I'd messed up the session," said Webber. "I was told it was going to rain again. It was difficult to get the lap in at the end with the conditions as they were, but I knew I had to do it. It was crucial to get both of the chicanes right and I really had to focus on the Ascari Chicane because it was like running on rail tracks. I drilled that though and it helped me to get my lap time. It should be a pretty interesting race tomorrow."
The fact that David Coulthard was 13th was a bit of a disappointment.
"We went out just after the beginning of the session, but had to back off for a bit of traffic," he said. "We therefore didn't manage to get a time at the start of the session and you weren't going to get a faster time at the end. As you saw with Hamilton and Raikkonen, it wasn't getting any quicker out there with the worsening conditions."
Kovalainen was second and a little disappointed.
"I missed pole by just 0.076 seconds," he said. "My first attempt in Q3 wasn't perfect and further rain later in the session made it almost impossible to improve. On my final run, I gave it everything but there wasn't enough grip."
Hamilton could only rue the choice of tyres at the start of the Q2 session.
"We thought it was the right way to go at the time because it was getting drier," he said, "but the grip-level was poor so I came in and switched to extreme wets. By the time I got out, it had begun to rain and I just missed the window when the track was at its fastest. It's the first time this has happened to me in Formula 1, so I can't really complain."
Ferrari too was somewhat embarrassed to have been beaten by its customer team.
"It could have been better," said Felipe Massa,"but it could also have been much worse. I am ahead of my main rivals in the fight for the championship and I still have a good grid position. Today conditions were very critical with aquaplaning at various points and visibility was also poor, especially in traffic and the situation got worse and worse. I still managed to improve my time and make it through to Q3, which was important. It will be a very tough race."
Raikkonen again made a mistake that cost him a lot.
"I went off at Ascari where there was a lot of water on the track, " he said . "That meant I didn‘‚ ‚ ‚ ¡‘‚ ‚ ‘‚ ‘‚ °‘‚ ‚‘ ‚ ¡‘‚ ‚‘‚ ‚‘ ‚ ¡®‘‚ t make it through to the next session. Now we must try and make the best of this situation which is definitely not ideal. Starting from the seventh row of the grid could be a bit tricky at the start, because the entry to the first chicane is very tight and it is easy to touch other cars. Rain could give some chances to those who are starting further back like me."
Ferrari's engineer Luca Baldisseri said that the team should not be judged on the qualifying result but wait until the race was run.
Williams had a good day - at least Nico Rosberg did - qualifying fifth for what would be his team's 500th Grand Prix start on Sunday.
"I was consistently able to be at the front and, despite the conditions," he said. "I felt comfortable in the car and we didn't compromise too much for qualifying and we have a good strategy plan for the race. I would rather we didn't have as much rain as we did today as it was pretty dangerous in terms of aquaplaning."
Team-mate Kazuki Nakajima was again rather a disappointment, qualifying 18th.
"I just struggled to find a clean lap in the traffic," he said. "In the third practice today I looked okay, finishing P5."
The qualifying was manna from heaven for Williams in another way as well for it underlined their argument that customer cars should not be allowed as they give the team concerned an advantage.
Toyota had a decent day with Jarno Trulli seventh and Timo Glock ninth.
"At one point in Q2 Sebastian Vettel slowed suddenly on the straight in front of me," Trulli said. "In these conditions we were very lucky not to have an accident so that was a dangerous moment."
Glock was disappointed but felt there would be a good chance in the race.
Renault did OK with Fernando Alonso eighth but he did not think he would have done as well in the dry.
"The race will be tough," he said. "There are still lots of unknowns."
Nelson Piquet was 17th after a spin.
It was not a good day for BMW with Nick Heidfeld 10th and Kubica 11th.
"In the beginning it went pretty well for me," said Heidfeld. "Once I made it into the top 10 of qualifying I was expecting more. The last laps were
disappointing. Instead of more grip I got less."
Kubica reckoned he was just unlucky.
"We put a new set of tyres on the car for the second qualifying session, as we planned not to make a pit stop in the session. You need two or three laps to make the tyres work. The track dried up after the first laps, but then it started to rain heavily so unfortunately I was not able to improve the lap times."
Force India had something to get excited about with Giancarlo Fisichella 12th.
"We went out as soon as we could in the second session as the rain was getting heavier and we really did the optimum - we weren't too far from Q3 with the quickest lap," he said. "Unfortunately then the rain just got worse and it was going to be impossible to improve."
Adrian Sutil was back in his usual 20th.
"We were very competitive," he said, "but then I changed tyres and suddenly we lost all the grip and I was about six tenths a lap slower in better conditions."
Honda had nothing at all to write home about.
Rubens Barrichello was 16th and Jenson Button 19th.
"There was a miscommunication on the radio as I wanted to stay on the existing tyres with more front wing when I came in," said Rubens. "The team changed to a new set of tyres as they were concerned about the temperatures and took off some wing, and this set did not work as well for me."
Button said that he could not his tyres to work.
"On the new set that we used for my last three quick laps the car was just undriveable," he said. "It had no balance and I couldn't find any grip, so every time I hit the brakes, the front and rear wheels would lock."
With the weather unpredictable and more rain forecast the prospects for the race were interesting.