Sunday, September 25, 2005

F1 NEWS: Alonso pole puts title within reach 

Spaniard in stunning form as key rival falters

McLaren were expected by many to take pole position for the Brazilian Grand Prix, but the man who will start at the front tomorrow is championship leader Fernando Alonso.

The Spaniard came here needing only six points for a third place finish to cement his title, but is determined to win from the front if he can. It showed.

Juan Pablo Montoya started the session as seventh man on track and quickly worked down to 1m 12.145s to supplant early pacesetter Giancarlo Fisichella, who had been the first to run after retiring from the Belgian Grand Prix after only 10 laps. The Italian managed 1m 12.558s but thereafter Montoya was in charge until Alonso went out as the penultimate runner. He pushed his Renault round in 1m 11.988s, and Kimi Raikkonen’s response was eagerly awaited. Going into the Senna S, the first corner, the Finn pushed too hard and immediately lost the better part of half a second as his McLaren understeered wide. The lap ruined, he had to settle for fifth place on the grid with 1m 12.781s.

It was a dramatic development that sets up a fantastic potential title climax tomorrow.

Fisichella’s time remained good enough for third, and Jenson Button will start fourth after a clean lap of 1m 12.696s in his BAR.

Alongside Raikkonen, Christian Klien is clearly on an early refuelling strategy after talking his Red Bull round in 1m 12.889s for sixth place. Michael Schumacher was seventh for Ferrari in 1m 12.976s, and then Jarno Trulli was eighth on 1m 13.041s for Toyota. However, he drops 10 grid places after his TF105 required a rare engine change this morning.

Felipe Massa was ninth on 1m 13.151s, complaining of understeer that sapped a couple of tenths from his lap time in the Sauber C24, then came Rubens Barrichello in the second Ferrari on 1m 13.183s. Ralf Schumacher was 11th on 1m 13.285s, while Jacques Villeneuve was very happy with 1m 13.372s as he is one of several drivers thought to be on a single-stop strategy in the second Sauber.

Tiago Monteiro surprised a few people with 1m 13.387s in a light Jordan EJ15B, while Mark Webber is another likely single stopper, together with Williams partner Antonio Pizzonia. They lapped in 1m 13.538s and 1m 13.581s respectively.

David Coulthard is obviously on a different strategy to Red Bull team mate Klien, as evidenced by his lap of 1m 13.844s which left him 16th.

At the back, Narain Karthikeyan lapped his Jordan in 1m 14.520s and can be assumed to stopping later than Monteiro, while Christijan Albers had a twitchy run to 1m 14.763s in his Minardi. Team mate Robert Doornbos spun his equally oversteery PS05 in Turn 12 and will start at the back with Takuma Sato. The Japanese driver did just an installation lap in his BAR; he in any case had the 10 grid place penalty levied by the stewards in Belgium, but to add to that had an engine change too.

Taking into account Trulli’s penalty, the grid will read: Alonso and Montoya; Fisichella and Button; Raikkonen and Klien; Schumacher Snr and Massa; Barrichello and Schumacher Jnr; Villeneuve and Monteiro; Webber and Pizzonia; Coulthard and Karthikeyan; Albers and Trulli; Sato and Doornbos.

A great race is in prospect

Qualifying - selected driver quotes

In taking pole position, Fernando Alonso showed the speed and maturity that has taken him within touching distance of the 2005 championship. Find out how he and his rivals viewed the session:

Fernando Alonso, Renault (1st, +11.988s):
“So far so good, I think. But this is only the starting point, we know tomorrow is a long race with 71 laps, so I will try and finish the job. The team has done a fantastic job in the past few weeks to carry on developing the car and engine, and this is the result: it is working well, and Fisi and I are on the front two rows. At the last few races we were not able to fight with McLaren, but here I think we have a better chance. Looking ahead, we are aiming to get on the podium at every one of the last races - not just here. But if we can do it tomorrow, then it will be very good for the championship!”

Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren (2nd, +0.157s):
"An OK lap until the last corner really. I put the throttle down and all of a sudden there was just no grip, and this probably cost me about two tenths of a second. It's frustrating, but that is what happens at this track where the conditions are changing continuously. However, I'm really confident for the race as during practice this morning we found a strong set-up and our package should be working really well, but I would have liked to be on pole though."

Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault (3rd, +0.570s):
“Honestly, I didn't expect to be here: the circuit conditions were not so good at the start of the session, and the grip levels were definitely a bit low. Here in Interlagos, this really hurts you in the second sector, and that's where I lost some time to the others. Our target for the last races has been to be in the top three, and to carry on scoring lots of points. I am optimistic for tomorrow, because we have a good pace on the long runs, so I think Fernando and I can get a strong result for both championships.”

Jenson Button, BAR (4th, +0.708s):
“I'm pleased with our fourth position today, although we expected a little bit more to be honest. In low-speed corners the car was working well but we had a bit of oversteer in the high-speed corners which meant that I had to get off the throttle in turn 11, the quick left-hander, which made me lose a bit of time. I was two tenths down on Montoya but the wind was so gusty and I could see that I was losing tenth after tenth as I came down the straight. The second row of the grid isn’t a bad place to be given our strategy so we'll wait and see what happens tomorrow. I'm optimistic that we can get a good result from here."

Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren (5th, +0.793s):
"That was a shame. I came into the first corner and simply locked up and lost about 0.7 seconds. I pushed hard for the rest of the lap, but that sort of thing does upset your rhythm a bit. However, I did what I could to make up for the mistake, and I believe that without that I could have been on pole tomorrow. I now focus on the race where anything is possible. We will just go for it and do what we can. Our strategy should be strong so we will see."

Christian Klien, Red Bull (6th, +0.901s):
“I had a really perfect qualifying lap. I was right on the edge and had good balance in the car. Things felt good this morning and we built on that by making a few changes after the day’s final practice, and before the start of qualifying. I fought hard throughout the qualifying lap and got a good result at the end of it. I have to thank the team. My car was pretty damaged after yesterday’s crash, but they repaired it quickly, meaning we could get back on with our practice programme this morning.”

Michael Schumacher, Ferrari (7th, +0.988s):
“I am not happy with my lap this afternoon. It started well, but towards the middle section I began to lose grip and I think this was because the tyre pressures went up higher than we wanted, causing me to slide around. But, looking at the data, it seems it was not just down to the pressures, so the track must have been more slippery than in the morning, which can be seen from looking at the other drivers’ times. When I saw my lap time, I expected to be much further back on the grid, so this is not such a bad result at the end of the day.”

Jarno Trulli, Toyota (8th, +1.053s):
"Our engine has been very reliable this year but this morning we had a pneumatic problem which we couldn't risk, so we had a precautionary change of engines. It's a pity that we will lose ten places as a penalty because we were going well this morning and we could have gone well again. The car was well balanced and the lap went well considering our fuel load and the fact that I had to go out relatively early because I had an accident in the last race. But tomorrow will now be very tough for me. Still, we will try our best to race hard and see what we can bring home. This is not the easiest circuit for overtaking but anything can happen."

Felipe Massa, Sauber (9th, +1.163s):
"I'm disappointed with my lap. Compared to this morning the balance of the car was not quite so good, and that lost me some crucial time not just in the Senna S. I had understeer there, and in Turn Nine I had understeer again which suddenly became snap oversteer on the exit. I think I lost a couple of places as a result. But we have good race pace and I am still starting in the top 10 so it's not too bad, but I had hoped for more today."

Rubens Barrichello, Ferrari (10th, +1.195s):
“I am very disappointed because this morning the car was set up very well. But this afternoon, the car was bottoming pretty much all the time and because of this I lost about 5 km/h going down the straight and it was even difficult to steer. Now, the engineers are checking what was the problem. I am really disappointed, because I think I could have done around a 1’12”1 which would have put me on the first or second row.”

Ralf Schumacher, Toyota (11th, +1.297s):
"That was a tough lap because I had a lot of understeer out there and it made it impossible to push as hard as I would have liked. The car had been going much better this morning and we will have to investigate exactly what changed between the two sessions. Overall it makes tomorrow a very hard proposition but we will do our best to improve our fortunes after what has been a very difficult weekend so far."

Jacques Villeneuve, Sauber (12th, +1.384s):
"Considering the strategy we have chosen for the race, I'm really happy with my lap this afternoon. It was clean and quick. The only concern is that my car seems to be some way down on straight-line speed compared to Felipe's, which is odd since we had a similar aero set-up. We need to check the data to see if there is anything amiss on the car."

Tiago Monteiro, Jordan (13th, +1.399s):
“I pushed really hard and had a great lap. I love this track and since yesterday we have been improving the car. In Free Practice this morning, we were quite close from the front runners, 1.3 seconds was the closest we have been since the beginning of the season. It was also my fastest lap of the weekend so I think it was perfect timing. The Bridgestone tyres warmed up very quickly and it was an advantage for my qualifying lap. We can see that with some work and evolution, the EJ15B gets better and better all the time. Now we need to keep on developing it.”

Mark Webber, Williams (14th, +1.550s):
“It's been a tough weekend so far and we've got a long race ahead of us tomorrow. We'll see how our strategy is paying out even if I am sure most of the opposition is on a similar strategy. There's no further change we can do to our car now so we have to look for a solid race tomorrow.”

Antonio Pizzonia, Williams (15th, +1.593s):
“My qualifying position could have been better today if I hadn't made a small mistake in the middle sector, which cost me two or three tenths. Usually here at Interlagos grid positions are very close and a couple of tenths can mean a few positions. Anyway, I think we have a good car for the race and a good strategy and having the opportunity to race in front of my home crowd is a big boost for me.”

David Coulthard, Red Bull (16th, +1.856s):
“We’ve been struggling a bit this weekend. We trimmed the wing this morning to try and achieve more speed, which is just one of the compromises we’ve had to make. I was suffering with understeer on my qualifying lap, which meant I lost some time on the tight turns. But, I think we’ve got a reasonable fuel load ahead of tomorrow’s race and we’ve done the best we can with the tools on offer, so now it’s just a question of seeing what the race brings.”

Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan (17th, +2.532s):
“I think I had a relatively nice and clean lap. It was really good to go out later in the session as the track was cleaner. I am satisfied with the balance of my car and I am very confident on our tyre choice. We have a good strategy for tomorrow’s race so hopefully we will be able to have a good race, and maybe if the weather plays in our favour, we could be lucky to score a point.”

Christijan Albers, Minardi (18th, +2.775s):
“I was happy to bring the car home in qualifying, as we had some oversteer in one or two of the quick corners that made it quite tricky. We actually set a good time today for this car considering our race strategy, so it looks positive for tomorrow.”

Takuma Sato, BAR (no time):
“Another difficult day for me. We were hoping to carry the momentum from yesterday over into today’s free practice but we had problems in both sessions which meant that I had very little running. As a result, I didn’t get the opportunity to put in a new tyre run, which is a big shame because I don’t know how the car behaves on new tyres. For qualifying we decided to complete only an installation lap so that we can maximise the opportunities for the race tomorrow. Obviously I had to start from the back of the grid anyway, so we approached our strategy with that in mind. I am confident that we have a strong package and, as always, I will be fighting hard for a good result.”

Robert Doornbos, Minardi (no time):
“From hero to zero - yesterday I was laughing, but today, nothing. I was driving on the limit in the qualifying run, and the car was a bit nervous because of the strategy we’re running tomorrow. As a result, I spun, and I’m sorry for the guys because they pushed really hard right up to the last minute in order to fix a problem they found with the gearbox. I couldn’t make the best of today, but we’ll see what we can do tomorrow.”

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