German GP 2004
JULY 24, 2004
Qualifying Report - Red hot poker
Formula 1 qualifying these days is all about the ability to disguise what one is planning to do in the race, because contrary to popular belief, despite Michael Schumacher's long list of wins, the competition is still tight and Ferrari has had to resort to some unusual strategies of late to stay ahead of the game.
The German GP, on the modern Hockenheim, is all about how long the tyres can be made to last and that is obviously affected by the temperature and, because the weather changes from day to day, predicting what will happen on Sunday is a rather inexact science. The Formula 1 regulations these days are such that weather forecasting is almost as important as vehicle dynamics and teams end up staring at one another in a big poker game. This being July on the plains of the Rhine, this is played out in sweltering conditions, unless of course it is raining which it does when the humidity builds up into a storm.
When one has an outstanding team such as Ferrari, even weather seems to be easy and so it was not exactly a shock when Michael Schumacher put Ferrari No 1 on pole position. It had not looked very likely based on the activities on Friday and Saturday morning with Michael really having to hustle the car around, so taking pole position seemed to be a very good effort and yet afterwards Michael did not seem hugely happy. He admitted that the car had not been right until the very end of the morning session on Saturday and that in those vital minutes he had not managed to get a lap in. He said that his real competitiveness was hidden in the pre-qualifying session because he was the first to run and the track was dirty. But then Boom! It all came together on his qualifying run. He won the pole on the twiddly new Hockenheim in the final sector, where tyres tend to lose their grip. Michael had nursed his rubber and that was the decisive thing. Other cars were eating their tyres by that point.
"Michael drove an outstanding lap," said Ferrari's Ross Brawn. "He really is an incredible driver. We were actually focussing our strategy mainly on the race so what Michael did was really extraordinary."
That was how it looked, but then afterwards Michael did not seem happy and he spoke about a reason that things did not work out perfectly. He didn't explain what he meant.
"Yeah, we didn't have... or maybe, probably, myself I didn't approach things properly," he said, lacking his usual eloquence. It did not make sense to anyone but Michael declined to explain. Obviously something was bothering him but he did not want the world to know. That raised questions about strategy in the race. What we did know was that Michael was definitely on a different strategy to Rubens Barrichello (as Ferrari tends to do these days). We learned that from Rubens himself, who use the strategy "joker" to explain why he was a disappointing seventh.
"My expectation for the race is very closely linked to the strategy," he said cryptically.
On Saturday night, logic suggested that Michael would be going to go for more pit stops than Rubens and that by talking up the brilliance of the lap Ferrari bosses were attempting to mislead the Ferrari rivals into thinking that the car had more fuel aboard than was actually the case. Certainly before qualifying the Ferraris had not looked that strong and Michael had to resort to feats of derring-do to keep up his pressure on his peers. The fact that BAR-Honda's Anthony Davidson was fastest on Friday made it clear that the BARs would be the leading rivals but although the car was obviously pretty quick, the team failed to deliver. Jenson Button was third quickest in qualifying but he dropped back 10 places on the grid because of an engine change the previous day.
"We have been very strong here," he said. "And it is disappointing to be having to start in 13th. We have a very good race pace and so there is a good chance we can score some points, so it should be exciting."
Takuma Sato was ninth on the grid and had no-one to blame but himself. He stuffed his car on Saturday morning and lost a heap of track time and so was scrambling to get it all together in the time available.
"We came here with high expectations," he said. "so I'm not really satisfied. The car is definitely stronger than it looks."
On Friday Michael's chief source of rivalry came, miraculously, from the teams boasting German engines and one might be forgiven for thinking that sudden revivals by McLaren and Williams might be related to the fact that the people in the grandstands were German car buyers and that maybe some special effort was going into making a good impression in front of the home crowd. That continued into pre-qualifying with a bit of a surprise when BMW Williams ended up with a 1-2, Juan Pablo Montoya just holding off an impressive Antonio Pizzonia, making his race debut with the team. Suddenly there was a buzz in the paddock again and the final session began with excitement as the backmarkers had their moment in the sun and a string of men held provisional pole, one after another. Finally things got serious with a run from Sato. Barrichello disappointed and then Michael wowed everyone with a 1m13.306s. Kimi Raikkonen got within three-tenths and David Coulthard looked good as well although both McLarens clearly lost out in the final sector. So too did the Renaults. There was a trend emerging and Michael stayed on top. Pizzonia was a little too cautious and faded from the big game and then we had Montoya going for it and he came up second, just three-tenths down on Michael. And yet he seemed happy.
"It is nice to be back at the front," he said. "I think we have done a really good job in the last few races and it is good to see the team back in good shape. It was a shame we couldn't go faster, but we have a very good race car."
Pizzonia said he reckoned he would have a good race but rued the fact that the car felt different on the all-important qualifying run.
"I think Michael is the favourite for the race," said BMW's Mario Theissen, "but we will see very close competition behind him."
Certainly McLaren will be somewhere in there although there are still question marks over whether the MP4-19B is really good enough to hack it without using flattering strategies. Starting third and fourth on home turf obviously helps but will the cars go further in the first stint than some of the opposition?
"We got the best out of the car," said Kimi Raikkonen. "Our package is pretty strong."
Team boss Ron Dennis said that there was a temptation to "deviate away from an optimum race strategy with a view to gaining grid positions" and added that "only tomorrow will tell if we have got it right" which sounded, if the truth be told, like someone laying out some excuses for Sunday.
Renault seemed strong enough with fifth and sixth on the grid and Pat Symonds made the point that the race will be "all about tyre management" and said that the team was "well-prepared in this respect" and that there was "every reason to expect a strong result".
Behind the Renaults we had Barrichello and Sato and then Olivier Panis in the new Toyota TF104B which did not really show its true pace on the first day because of setting-up troubles. In the end Olly P got it together like the professional old stager that he is and ended up ninth on the grid while Cristiano da Matta made a three-course meal out of his qualifying lap and so would start 15th, a rather frustrating thing for himself and for the team.
The Jaguars and the Saubers were next along with Mark Webber beating Christian Klien in 11th and 12th and Giancarlo Fisichella ahead of Felipe Massa in 14th and 16th. The pace suggested that both teams had their cars pumped full of gas, which is the logical thing to do when you are in the midfield on a track where overtaking is possible.
Down at the back we had Jordan and Minardi and the bookmakers were not losing any sleep over that.
So the stage was set to find out on Sunday who was bluffing and who was shooting straight.
Michael Schumacher (1st, 1:13.306): "It is nice to be back on pole again in front of the home crowd, as was the case the last time I was quickest at the Nurburgring. To be honest, I am not so surprised to be on pole, but I am surprised at the gap to the others. In pre-qualifying, as usual I was first out as the circuit sweeper, but I cannot complain as there is a good reason for that. But it does mean you cannot push to the limit so much for the first couple of corners. Running in the mid-field in the second session was not much of a disadvantage and the circuit did not seem to pick up more speed towards the end. It looks very promising for us for tomorrow when the weather is supposed to be nice and hot and sunny, so I hope we can put on a good show for the spectators."
Rubens Barrichello (8th, 1:14.278): "I had an okay qualifying, but I think I might have been able to go a bit quicker and improve my position slightly on the grid. My expectations for the race tomorrow are very closely linked to strategy and we will not know until the end of the race which one of us has chosen the best one. I know I can count on a very strong car- engine-Bridgestone tyre package."
Jean Todt, Team Principal: "I am very happy with Michael's pole position, set in front of his fans and so many Ferrari supporters. It is a great result in the second most important market, the first in Europe, for our company. Michael's second and third sectors were really extraordinary, helped in part by the Bridgestone tyres that hung on right to the end. It was a shame for Rubens, who lost precious time in the final section of the track: however, I am confident he can have a good race, given that a few times this season, he has started a bit further back and managed to stage a great climb up the order. While satisfied with pole, we must not forget that this is just the first step for the weekend. The second and more important one takes place tomorrow. We can expect a tough race and we will tackle it with the same approach we have adopted at the eleven previous rounds, which means with absolute determination and motivation."
Ross Brawn, Technical Director: "Michael drove an outstanding lap. He really is an incredible driver! We were actually focussing our strategy mainly on the race, so what Michael did is really extraordinary. Tomorrow's race should take place in relatively hot conditions: we saw in yesterday's free practice that the Bridgestone tyres were working very well and that means we can approach tomorrow with confidence. In fact, apart from what happens at the start, tyre durability will be the key factor."
Juan Pablo Montoya (2nd, 1:13.668): "It is really nice to be back at the front and to be in good shape again. WillliamsF1 and BMW have been working very hard and our package has improved a lot. Since Magny- Cours, we have had some new aero parts on the car and they have proved very successful. In my qualifying lap, I made a mistake in the corner before the stadium and so I lost a bit of time, which probably cost me pole position, and the chance of starting on the clean side of the track. Anyway, we have a very good race car. Actually, this is a much better car than I've had in the last few races so I think it's realistic to think we could get a podium finish tomorrow. Compared to how it handled during yesterday's Free Practice, it is easier to drive and is definitely more stable."
Antonio Pizzonia (11th, 1:14.556): "Obviously this is a disappointing result, especially when we did so well in pre-qualifying. In my final qualifying lap, the car felt different as we made some changes to it between the two sessions which made it unexpectedly hard to drive. I think we have a good race car though so we will try and score points tomorrow."
Sam Michael, Technical Director: "Juan did a good job in today's qualifying and is now in a good position starting the race from second place on the grid. His lap time also shows that the improvements we've made to the car are starting to take effect. Hopefully we will now be able to have a strong race tomorrow. Although Antonio put in the second quickest time in the pre-qualifying session, he unfortunately didn't manage to put together a good lap in the final qualifying. It is now going to be tough for him to gain positions in the race, but he has to push hard to get points."
Dr. Mario Theissen, BMW Motorsport Director: "Pre-qualifying was excellent and qualifying was good for the team. Juan Pablo will start from the front row, although his qualifying lap was not ideal in the third sector. In pre- qualifying, Antonio was as quick as Juan but he was too careful in the final session. I believe in the race Michael Schumacher will be the favourite, but we will see very close competition behind him."
Kimi Raikkonen (4th, 1:13.690): "It was an okay qualifying as we got the best out of the car, and I didn't make any mistakes. Our package is pretty strong, and we have been able to run consistently in race trim, so I'm confident for tomorrow when we should be able to fight for a good position. I think it's actually better to start from third than second here at Hockenheim as you are on the inside."
David Coulthard (5th, 1:13.821): "I'm much happier with the balance of the car as we have taken a significant step forward since yesterday. My qualifying lap was good, and I think I could have been even a bit faster, but as our pace has been pretty consistent we should have a strong race tomorrow. However, as always it's difficult to make predictions as you never know what fuel loads the other teams are on, but I think we have a solid strategy, and I look forward to a competitive race."
Ron Dennis, Team Principal: "It's always tempting to deviate away from an optimum race strategy with a view to gaining grid positions. Only tomorrow will tell whether we have got it right."
Norbert Haug, Mercedes Motorsport Director: "Both cars on the second row is a good basis for the race. This was an exciting qualifying for a change with the top five cars within approximately half a second. We are satisfied, especially with David being in fourth position following his problems in finding the right set-up yesterday. We hope for a strong race."
Fernando Alonso (6th, 1:13.874): "We had a well-balanced car in pre-qualifying: I had more grip, and we managed to dial out the understeer that I was suffering from this morning. I was pleased with my lap in qualifying, after pushing to the limit and making no mistakes. We should be happy with our positions, I think: the weekend has not been easy so far, and we were not very quick yesterday, but we have still managed to get a good position to attack from tomorrow."
Jarno Trulli (7th, 1:14.134): "From my point of view it was a strong lap, with no mistakes, and I pushed 100%. The car was working well today, and the balance was good. We now must wait to see what the conditions will be like tomorrow, and how the different strategies will play out."
Pat Symonds, Executive Director of Engineering: "We managed to get both cars into good positions today, and they seem to be well-balanced on new and used tyres. The race tomorrow will be all about tyre management, and as we are well prepared in this respect, there is every reason to expect a strong result. With two cars on the third row, we have a good position to race from tomorrow."
Denis Chevrier, Engine Operations Manager: "Once again, we have shown ourselves to be legitimate challengers for tomorrow's race. We have worked to improve the cars' performance since the beginning of the weekend, and today's results demonstrate we have done so successfully. On the technical side, we did not encounter any problems, and we hope to continue in this fashion for tomorrow's race. We must now aim to make the most of a strong package to beat our main competitors."
Jenson Button (3rd, 1:13.674): "I am quite pleased with my lap today and to qualify third is great, so it's very disappointing that I'll be lining up on the seventh row to start the race tomorrow. We have a very good car here and it is performing much better than in the last couple of races. The Michelin tyres are working well - not just on one lap but on the longer runs as well. 13th place is on the clean side of track so although I will be starting with slower cars around me, at least I should be able to make good progress off the line. There are also some good overtaking opportunities here - turns two and four and also the back straight. So I'll do the best possible job from there and hope to pick up a good points finish."
Takuma Sato (9th, 1:14.287): "This was a very difficult qualifying session for me. I lost most of the morning practice sessions and the only lap that I was able to do was in pre-qualifying. I did everything I could in the final qualifying run in those circumstances. I couldn't risk anything but as I got further into the lap I was more confident and was picking up speed towards the end, so I think my lap was fairly strong. I'm not really satisfied because we came here with high expectations of a better performance than in the last few races. The car is definitely stronger and we have the potential to score some good points tomorrow, so I will be doing my best to achieve that target."
David Richards, Team Principal: "It has certainly been an eventful weekend so far. Our car has been very quick both yesterday and today, but various unforeseen things have not made it easy to deliver our true potential for the grid. However, I believe that the measure of a great team is less a matter of how well you do in the good times, but more your ability to dig deep in times of adversity and come back fighting. I am confident that with our car's natural speed, Taku and Jenson will be putting on a good show tomorrow, and they will be racing hard to get a couple of good points finishes. It should be exciting to watch!"
Geoffrey Willis, Technical Director: "Given Jenson's engine change for today, our focus for him has been very much on race set-up since he will now be starting 13th on the grid. We made some effective changes to the car to give us very consistent behaviour on old tyres and were fastest in the second session this morning. Jenson continued his good work from this morning to qualify third fastest. Takuma's day was marred by an early error when he went off having touched a damp kerb and did quite a lot of damage to the right hand suspension. He went into qualifying with virtually no running and did a solid job to qualify ninth. The car is quick here so we are confident that we have the opportunity to score points with both cars tomorrow."
Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Engineering Director: "It has been a difficult day but both of the drivers did a good job under the circumstances. Hockenheim always gives drivers the chance to overtake so I hope our strategy will prove to be the correct one."
Giancarlo Fisichella (14th, 1:15.395): "Our qualifying positions are what we expected with the fuel load we were carrying, but it's important that one of the Toyotas will start behind us. It will also be important to get by the Jaguars as soon as possible tomorrow, then get on with our race. We know that our tyres are very good in race conditions, and I was very pleased with the balance, and in particular the stability of the car under braking, today. It was much better than yesterday. With all that in mind, we have the potential to repeat the result we had at Silverstone so I am feeling relaxed and optimistic."
Felipe Massa (16th, 1:15.616): "I think I drove a good lap this afternoon. The balance was good and everything went according to our strategy. Usually if you see P16 it is very bad but in our case appearances are deceptive and we will be strong tomorrow. It's difficult to overtake here but not impossible, so we have a great chance to be in the points."
Peter Sauber, Team Principal: "Both drivers achieved their target lap times, so everything this afternoon proceeded in accordance with our strategy. We are very happy with the well-balanced performances of Giancarlo and Felipe, and are well prepared for the race."
Mark Webber (12th, 1:14.802): "We have been working extremely hard this weekend preparing the cars and despite our time on track being cut short yesterday, the team has done a good job on the R5 set-up. I did 25 laps this morning working on balance and some fine-tuning, so I was geared up going into qualifying. My first session this afternoon was satisfactory and the car was balanced. When I went out for my second session I did not quite get the right gear going into the first corner, so I was chasing my time for the rest of the session. My overall lap was good but not perfect so my final position of 11th for the grid is ok, but as always further up would have been even better. We are now focusing on what we need to do tomorrow during the race to fight for a points-finish. It is more and more difficult to score points as we progress through the season so any points achieved are hard fought. We have some first-rate people in the team so we will all be looking at our strategy to ensure we are racing for points from the start."
Christian Klien (13th, 1:15.011): "The weekend has been going well so far and I am enjoying driving the R5 around this circuit. The team and I have spent most of today looking at balance and set-up and I did 20 laps this morning that really helped me get the car reacting the way I wanted. Going into this afternoon's sessions I was very focused and my first qualifying lap was clean and I was generally pleased. My second and final session was again ok, although I made one minor error that swung the back of the car out slightly but I recovered and pushed really hard for the remainder of the lap. My 12th position just behind Mark is good for me and I am pleased that I am keeping up with my teammate. I am looking forward to the race here tomorrow as I am sure that it is going to be interesting. There are some overtaking points that I will be looking to make use of so lets see what happens."
Mark Gillan, Head of Vehicle Performance: "It has been a productive day for us here at the Hockenheim-Ring and I am satisfied with our final grid positions of 11th and 12th. Both drivers completed a good number of laps this morning working through a programme of car set-up and tyre preparation. After the excessive amount of rain last night the track was quite green but after some rubber was put down its grip improved. Going into qualifying they were both giving good feedback on the balance and their first sessions were clean laps. With their second qualifying sessions they both improved their lap times and ended up in 11th and 12th ahead of tomorrow's race. We have a good strategy in place and we will be looking to do our utmost to aim for the chequered flag and some points."
Olivier Panis (10th, 1:14.368): "Yesterday, we ran the updated car for the first time with all the new aero parts and we struggled to find the right balance. Both free practice sessions were quite difficult for us and the team had to work hard last night to make some set-up changes. Today, I felt much more confident with the TF104B and the balance of the car. Overall, we had a stronger and more competitive package. We did a good job this afternoon and performed well in both qualifying sessions. After carrying out some long-runs this morning, I think that the car is in good shape for tomorrow, and from ninth place on the grid, I am looking forward to a strong race."
Cristiano da Matta (15th, 1:15.454): "I am not happy with either of my qualifying laps today. In this morning's practice, we were looking quite good and had found a clear direction with the updated car, but I was not able to get everything out of the car this afternoon. I was expecting to do a lap time similar to what I did in the morning - in the mid-to-high 1m14s - but on both of my runs, I had difficulty entering turn two, as well as some problems braking into turn 6. We have to look into this, because I experienced no trouble there in practice. The TF104B has shown that it is a better car with improvements on the aerodynamics side, so it is frustrating that I couldn't show its potential in qualifying. We have another 67 laps in tomorrow's race to put that right."
Mike Gascoyne, Technical Director: "A satisfying day for the team and a result that demonstrates the progress we have made with the TF104B. We have definitely made a step forward compared to the opposition. Both cars looked competitive in free practice, especially over long runs. I think we have a good race pace, which we haven't had in recent races. Unfortunately, Cristiano was unable to repeat his lap time from the morning sessions, despite being on a similar fuel load, so we will have to look into what happened. It is a shame that we couldn't get both cars into the top ten in qualifying because I think the car was capable of it."
Luca Marmorini, Technical Director Engine: "Today was a successful day for us. Both Cristiano and Olivier were quick this morning and showed a strong performance. Cristiano was a bit unlucky in qualifying, making a small mistake on his first lap, so I do not think his position reflects his true competitiveness. Olivier did a brilliant job and I don't think he could have found any more time from the car. Everything is working well with the new specification engine, and I think the drivers are enjoying the upgrade. The whole TF104B package has worked well today, we just have to hope for a continuation in the race."
Giorgio Pantano (17th, 1:16.192): "I'm quite satisfied but a little worried about missing practice this morning because we didn't have the opportunity to check our race set-up so I don't know how the car will be tomorrow. We went with our set-up and I didn't know how it would turn out this afternoon, I just did my best and as it happened the balance was alright and I did a good lap."
Nick Heidfeld (18th, 1:16.310): "I'm happy with my lap, and qualifying was better than pre-qualifying. We had a bit of front tyre graining towards the end of the lap but it wasn't a big issue. I think I am in fairly good shape for the race tomorrow. The work we did this morning showed that on long runs our tyres have promising performance with no major degradation."
James Robinson, Director of Race and Test Engineering: "We saw good laps from both drivers and especially Giorgio, given the problems he had after a small 'off' this morning and the consequent loss of running in free practice. Well done to the boys for getting his car back together. Before qualifying we detected a small clutch problem with Nick's car and the mechanics worked very hard to rectify that before he went out. It was a busy day for Jordan Ford but it went smoothly when it mattered."
Gianmaria Bruni (19th, 1:18.055): "I'm quite happy. I had a good qualifying lap, considering the fuel we were carrying, and we were quite close to the right balance for the load we have. The guys also did a really good job today, and now I'm looking forward to the race."
Zsolt Baumgartner (20th, 1:18.400): "As far as the qualifying run was concerned, we were missing a bit on chassis balance today and, as a result, I was struggling particularly in the Stadium section. My first two sector times were similar to Gimmi's, but then I lost quite a bit in the final section. Generally, today we weren't able to find a satisfactory balance as quickly as we did yesterday, and the situation wasn't helped by the fact I made a mistake in the first session this morning and lost time while the car was repaired. As a result, I wasn't able to do as much running as I would have liked. Even so, I think we can have a strong car tomorrow and a good race."
Paul Stoddart, Team Principal: "Both drivers put in quite good performances in today's sessions and completed their technical programmes. I was particularly pleased with pre-qualifying this afternoon, which showed that we are as close to the Jordans as we expected to be. Gimmi and Zsolt will line up at the back of the grid for the German Grand Prix, but race strategy involves different fuel loads, and we have a healthy fuel load for tomorrow's race. We look forward to an interesting race here at Hockenheim."