Saturday, 24 May 2008

Monaco Grand Prix: Qualifying Report

On form Felipe Massa secured something of a shock result in qualifying for the Monaco Grand Prix by taking pole position. The boy from Brazil, who claims he hates the Monaco street circuit, beat the much fancied McLarens and his teammate Raikkonen with whom he will share an all Ferrari front row. Massa himself appeared as surprised as anyone during the press conference, as he was clearly thrilled with his own performance. Raikkonen looked considerably less impressed though, as most would have expected him to beat Massa comfortably. Is Massa emerging as a genuine favourite for the title?

It had been predicted all week long that the McLarens would be the cars to beat in Monaco, with their superior traction and stability over the kerbs. Few would have predicted anything other than a Hamilton pole position, yet he will have to settle for third place behind two Ferraris. Interestingly, throughout the afternoon Hamilton was massively quicker than anyone during the first sector but couldn't maintain it over the course of a full lap. Either his set up isn't quite right for the second half of the lap, or he was cooking the tyres too early in the lap and losing pace later on. Of course, we will have to wait and see what the situation is regarding fuel loads in tomorrow's race. Have McLaren gone too conservative in their race strategy? Have Ferrari been too aggressive? Or was it just a case of the red cars being quicker than the silver ones?

Robert Kubica had an excellent qualifying session, finishing just thousandths of a second away from a place on the second row. He will share the third row with Nico Rosberg, who has so far been the star of the weekend in the Williams. Rosberg fell short of upsetting the big boys as he had threatened to do earlier in the weekend, but P6 is an fine performance all the same. Fernando Alonso will struggle to make it a hat-trick of Monaco victories from P7 in his extremely tail-happy Renault. Interestingly he chose to stay on the harder tyre throughout qualifying as he didn't like the balance on the softs. That could cause problems for him if the weather stays dry and he needs to use the option tyre in the race. Trulli is 8th while Webber is in a solid P9 ahead of his teammate Coulthard.

DC didn't make it out onto the track in Q3 after binning his Red Bull spectacularly while braking into la Nouvelle Chicane in Q2. The car snapped right violently as he jumped on the brakes at over 180mph, and he speared into the armco and slid off down the escape road at great speed. Whether it was just a case of the rears locking up over the vicious bumps down there, or some kind of mechanical failure at the rear of the car remains to be seen. Compatriot Jenson Button had a similar kind of accident here in a BAR in 2003 and ended up being carried from the cockpit unconscious and stretchered straight to hospital after hitting the old tyre wall down there, but no such worries for DC. He narrowly missed the tyres and went straight down the escape road, such are the fine margins here at Monaco. Button's 2003 accident HERE..

Button himself will start in 12th alongside Timo Glock's Toyota in 11th place. Nick Heidfeld was 13th for BMW, which was arguably as big a surprise as Massa's pole position. We will have to wait and see whether there was a problem for Heidfeld, as his BMW should have been at least in the top ten. Nakajima is 14th after being comprehensively thrashed by his Williams teammate Rosberg, ahead of Rubens Barrichello.

No major surprises as to who went out in the first qualy session with both Toro Rossos and both Force Indias missing out. Piquet was the man to join them, which is no great shock as he has looked like the guy struggling the most to cope with the demands of the Monaca circuit, from his spin in Thursday practice to his erratic qualifying performance.

Almost the very instant the F1 cars returned to their garage after qualifying the rain began to fall in Monaco for the second GP2 race. It is looking increasingly likely from the forecasts that tomorrow will indeed be a wet race, and that will really be a wildcard factor for everybody on the grid. Normally qualifying strongly will virtually guarantee you a strong finish at Monaco (reliability worries excluded), but in the rain nothing is certain. Without traction control it will be treacherous for the drivers, particularly if there is standing water from the start on the run up to the first corner. It will be even more interesting if the race isn't wet throughout. If it starts dry and turns wet later on, or vice-versa, it could easily throw the teams' meticulously planned strategies out of the window. It should be fascinating to watch.

Provisional Starting Grid

1. Massa
2. Raikkonen
3. Hamilton
4. Kovalainen
5. Kubica
6. Rosberg
7. Alonso
8. Trulli
9. Webber
10. Coulthard
11. Glock
12. Button
13. Heidfeld
14. Nakajima
15. Barrichello
16. Bourdais
17. Piquet
18. Vettel
19. Sutil
20. Fisichella

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