Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Monza qualifying Report: Alonso breaks tifosi hearts

Fernando Alonso dominated Saturday's qualifying to grab a comfortable pole position for tomorrow's Italian Grand Prix.

Leading the way in the final qualifying segment, the McLaren driver actually backed off during his final flying lap after his team-mate Lewis Hamilton failed to beat the 1:21.997 Alonso had set on his previous flyer.

The McLaren rookie finished 0.037s adrift of his team-mate, however, the deficit could have been more as Alonso was even faster on in the first sector of the lap he aborted.

Felipe Massa saved face for Ferrari, claiming third place on the grid. The Brazilian, though, faces a tough task tomorrow to win the race as he was half a second off the pace of the McLarens. Nick Heidfeld finished fourth for BMW with Kimi Raikkonen fifth and Robert Kubica sixth.

Qualifying Report: Bright autumnal sunshine shone down on Monza as the drivers tried to concentrate on the real first job of the weekend - qualifying - as opposed to filling out forms and sending their e.mail inboxes to Max Mosley and the FIA.

The ambient temperature was at 27C with the track at 32C as Sebastien Vettel took his Toro Rosso to the first provisional pole of 1:24.186. With a new B-spec car having now passed the crash test the Spyker team were hoping to get close to the Toro Rossos, but it wasn't to be. Sakon Yamomoto spun his car under braking for Turn 1 and immediately knocked off the front wing, but neither Spyker was about to dislodge a Toro Ross.

Kimi Raikkonen, having escaped mercifully unscathed (both driver and engine) from a high-speed shunt in morning practice, was out early in Ferrari chassis No.262 to make sure all the bits had been put back in the right place. He needn't have worried. The Ferrari crossed the line in 1:22.673 to take P1.

Lewis Hamilton wrenched this off him for McLaren using a set of hard tyres, but it was World Champion Fernando Alonso who looked in the best form having been fastest in morning practice by four tenths. He duly took P1 with a 1:21.718.

Going into the final three minutes the danger positions were:
16. Button

Very little separated the bottom 12 positions as the drivers took to the track for their second runs.

Yamamoto was again held up (as he had been in Hungary) by what looked like a Renault and gestured out of the cockpit several times for the benefit of his onboard camera. Expect to see a grid deduction for somebody if the race stewards were watching. F1 fans are looking for consistency in their decisions and this was a flagrant example of a driver not being informed who was behind.

Jenson Button looked to be clear of trouble when he jumped to P12 (Rubens Barrichello was already in a dizzying position in the Top 10) . David Coulthard wouldn't set a final hot lap because his car jammed between gears going into Turn 1, spinning the Red Bull around to the amusement of the tifosi in the grandstands.

Liuzzi improved to 17th position which wasn't good enough, while Ralf Schumacher also jumped to 17th in his Toyota and that again wasn't good enough. However Ant Davidson pulled off another brilliant lap similar to his Turkish heroics when he leapt to P14.

So out went:
17. Sato
18. Schumacher
20. Coulthard

It was a good result for Sebastien Vettel, outcompeting his Italian team-mate at a track he knows supremely well. It was another poor result for Ralf Schumacher and though Jarno Trulli only qualified in 15th place in Q1, he would go on to pick up pace in Q2 to make the result look more disastrous for Ralf.

Qualifying 2

The drivers were quite casual about coming out for the second qualifying session and there were twelve minutes left on the clock before Jarno Trulli emerged from the pitlane to set the first provisional pole at 1:23.381.

Ferrari, perhaps realising that they were never going to be battling for out-and-out pole today decided to run their drivers much earlier in the session. As Felipe Massa lined up to start his hot lap the provisional pole time began to tumble. Mark Webber, Rubens Barrichello and Heiki Kovalainen all held it briefly before Massa set the benchmark at 1:21.943.

Lewis Hamilton in his first (and only) run for McLaren took it down to 1:21.746, however it was the consistently superior Fernando Alonso who showed what might happen in Q3 when he lowered the P1 time to 1:23.356.

McLaren, Ferrari and BMW all looked safe with one run, but the rest would have to battle it out again.

Going into the final set of hot laps the positions were:
8. Kovalainen
12. Button

Rubens Barrichello couldn't improve from his P9 and with the track quickening with the extra rubber laid down he immediately looked under threat - especially when Jarno Trulli stuck his Toyota up into P8.

Anthony Davidson performed more heroics to take a temporary P11 for Super Aguri and this was immediately taken off him by Alex Wurz - neither good enough. Kovalainen snatched P9, sending Barrichello down to a very wobbly P10, which then became P11 when Mark Webber's Red Bull slotted into P10.

But would the Aussie keep his Q3 slot with Fisichella still to complete his final flying lap? No, but it was Jenson Button flashing up to P8 on the grid that did it. Fisichella had nowhere to go when Rubens Barrichello went off into the gravel and he had to avoid the Honda as it rejoined the track after the second Lesmo turn.

Though Fisichella maintained it was the difference between qualifying for Q3, he'd only managed 13th fastest time so far and has been slower than Kovalainen in qualifying recently, so he was probably denied P11, but no more. So out went:
11. Webber
12. Barrichello
13. Wurz
14. Davidson
15. Fisichella
16. Vettel

Fisichella was the big loser of the session with Button a rare visitor to Q3 and Trulli a staggering number of positions in front of his team-mate now.

Qualifying 3

The battle for the end of the pitlane was won by Lewis Hamilton ahead of his friend Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen. Fernando Alonso was nowhere to be seen and tagged onto the rest of the drivers when the light at the end of the pitlane turned green.

The fuel-burning process played out and then it was time for the show to begin with 7.45 left on the stopwatch.

Though Hamilton had been ahead of Massa on the circuit, it was Felipe who left the pitlane first for his hot lap followed by Lewis and then Kimi and Fernando Alonso last of the top four runners. Massa moved the provisional pole time down to 1:22.817 then Hamilton lowered it to 1:22.360. Raikkonen's 1:23.183 was only good enough for P3 and seemed to indicate that he was on a longer fuel load than his team-mate.

When Alonso reset pole time at 1:21.997 - almost four tenths faster than Hamilton - it looked like he was on a different strategy to his team-mate, too. Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica were a few tenths back from Raikkonen, but he looked to be the only driver vulnerable to the BMWs' pace.

The gaps between the first four drivers all looked unbridge-able, Alonso was too fast for Hamilton, Hamilton was too fast for Massa and Massa looked too fast for Raikkonen.

Into the second round of pole attempts and it was anti-climax all the way. Massa couldn't beat Hamilton's time, Raikkonen couldn't beat Massa's time, Hamilton couldn't beat Alonso's time, and though Alonso was on course to smash his own time, once Lewis was across the line and still in P2 the Spaniard was able to get his foot off the gas and save fuel.

It was left to Nick Heidfeld's BMW to spoil the party and the front row symmetry by grabbing P4 in the dying seconds, demoting Kim Raikkonen to P5.

Though the McLaren pair were considerably quicker than their Ferrari rivals (begging the question: why didn't they put more fuel in?) there is a logic in running lighter than necessary. The McLarens have a clear advantage over the rest of the field providing they can stay out in front. In the last few races they haven't been particularly quick off the grid compared to Ferrari and BMW, and it's a very long run down to the frantic Turn 1 traffic jam. There is no better place to lose your no claims bonus than on the first lap of the Italian GP.

By running lighter McLaren can ensure their speed advantage and with P1 and P2 secured they can burn off into the distance. If they can do this, and Heidfeld can keep ahead of Raikkonen, then the battles will be Alonso vs Hamilton and Heidfeld vs Raikkonen. None of the top six has ever won at Monza, so tomorrow is going to be a new experience for someone. But because Monza is such a strategy battle, half of it has already been decided by what's in the fuel tanks of the first four cars.


01 F. Alonso McLaren 1:21.997
02 L. Hamilton McLaren 1:22.034
03 F. Massa Ferrari 1:22.549
04 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:23.174
05 K. Räikkönen Ferrari 1:23.183
06 R. Kubica BMW 1:23.446
07 H. Kovalainen Renault 1:24.102
08 N. Rosberg Williams 1:24.382
09 J. Trulli Toyota 1:24.555
10 J. Button Honda 1:25.165
11 M. Webber Red Bull 1:23.166
12 R. Barrichello Honda 1:23.176
13 A. Wurz Williams 1:23.209
14 A. Davidson Super Aguri 1:23.274
15 G. Fisichella Renault 1:23.325
16 S. Vettel Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.351
17 T. Sato Super Aguri 1:23.749
18 R. Schumacher Toyota 1:23.787
19 V. Liuzzi Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:23.886
20 D. Coulthard Red Bull 1:24.019
21 A. Sutil Spyker F1 1:24.699
22 S. Yamamoto Spyker F1 1:25.084