Saturday, 26 April 2008

Spanish Grand Prix: Qualifying Session

Kimi Raikkonen took an easily predicted pole position in Saturday's qualifying session in Barcelona, but there were surprises aplenty behind him as Ferrari weren't quite as dominant as they were expected to be. Indeed, Kimi's fifteenth career pole came at the expense of home favourite Fernando Alonso, who came within a whisker of providing the shock of the season so far. Still, the Spanish fans will be going home extremely happy after that result!

The first session passed largely without incident for the first 15 minutes or so, with Ferrari's predicted dominance showing. But in the final seconds of the session things went crazy as the times started tumbling. It appears that the track had lost a bit of pace and took the first 15 minutes or so to "rubber in" and start yielding the truly quick times.

It would be nigh on impossible to relate all the changes in position in those final seconds, but as a reference Jenson Button was in P9 about ten seconds after the chequered flag dropped, but by the end of the action he was right down in P16, only just making it through to the second session! David Coulthard was the big loser of the session. He was second quickest in practice this morning but could only manage a lowly 17th place. Fisichella, Vettel, Sutil, Davidson and Sato joined him on the sidelines for the rest of the session.

The second session again showed the Ferrari's pace, but BMW started to come to the fore with Kubica especially putting in a great lap. All of the main players made it through to the final session without too much fuss. Again, things were ridiculously close in the midfield. Sebastien Bourdais, probably the star of Q1 was the slowest man out on track, and in the final shake up he was joined by Rosberg, Glock, Button, Nakajima (out-pacing his teammate for the first time ever) and Barrichello.

The final session caused the real talking points of the day though, with a sensational finish. Kimi Raikkonen had a poor first hot lap, struggling with understeer in his car. Massa too wasn't impressing and it looked for a short while as though Ferrari were about to fumble the ball at the vital moment. The McLaren's looked decent, but they will be a tad worried as to why their obvious one-lap pace didn't translate to good pace with heavy fuel loads. They had to settle for fifth and sixth place for Hamilton and Kovalainen respectively.

BMW were again showing they had the measure of the McLarens with Kubica looking to repeat his brilliant performance of a few weeks ago. It looked for a while as though he had a shot at front row grid slot as he made it to P2 behind Massa who recovered reasonably well. However, the big surprise was to come in the dying seconds after the clock had run down to zero. Fernando Alonso sent the thousands of Spanish fans wild with a brilliant lap to take first place on the time sheets. I don't think anybody could quite believe it, especially the likes of McLaren and BMW who had their thunder well and truly stolen.

The dream was to be shattered for Alonso just seconds later though, as Kimi Raikkonen finally got his act together to take pole at the final moment. We all knew that Renault had taken a big step forward during the Easter break, but I don't think anyone thought they had jumped that far forward. In all honesty we have to assume that they will be very light on fuel and will struggle to make it to the podium for the race tomorrow. However, having the Renault up there on the front row really throws the cat amongst the pigeons for the race tomorrow, with things being made very difficult now for the BMWs and McLarens to be able to challenge the Ferraris.

Kimi Raikkonen will be the red-hot favourite for the race tomorrow, but it should be a fascinating battle behind him due to Alonso's incredible performance.

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