As Fernando Alonso cruised back to the pitlane in his broken McLaren, the final shoot out for pole position for tomorrows French Grand Prix centred around the final three title contenders left. While Lewis Hamilton drove well to regain pace from Friday’s less-than-good practice sessions, the young rookie had to admit defeat to Ferrari”s Brazilian driver and winner, Felipe Massa, who takes his fourth pole of the season.
Lining up third and 0.2s adrift of his team mate, Kimi Raikkonen looks directly at the rear wing of Massa with Robert Kubica in a fine fourth. With potential worries about the Polish drivers ability to attack the track following his accident in Canada, Kubica stunned his fans and team by placing his BMW in fourth, 0.25s down on the Ferrari of Raikkonen.
Both Renaults split the two BMWs, with Giancarlo Fisichella showing the improvements made to the R27 over the two week break have done the team a lot of good. His pace is compounded with rookie team mate Heikki Kovalainen lining up in sixth and 0.15s down on Fisi. Nick Heidfeld has had to settle for seventh, being out qualyfied by his team mate for the second time this year. Nico Rosberg puts his Williams in eighth and out qualifies Alex Wurz again, while Jarno Trulli again out paces his partner, ending Saturday in ninth and ahead of Fernando Alonso in tenth who failed to set a time in final qualifying.
Ralf Schumacher starts in eleventh, and while that may be enough to retain his seat at Toyota, when comparing his pace to that of team mate Jarno Trulli, one has to wonder why he is still in the car. Of course, saying that Nico Rosberg has been performing well this year in comparison to his partner, who starts way down in eighteenth following a knock out in Q1.
Both Honda’s showed relatively equal pace yet again, Jenson Button getting the better of Rubens Barrichello by a mere 0.2s and the pair line up twelfth and thirteenth respectively. Then follow the Red Bull drivers, Mark Webber, Scott Speed, David Coulthard and Vitantonio Liuzzi. Mark Webber out qualifies his team mate David Coulthard after the Scot struggled with electrical problems hampering his gear box, once again. Coulthard didn’t manage to complete a lap in Q2, and thus Scott Speed managed to get ahead to start in fifteenth. Liuzzi didn’t make the cut in Q1, but he was the fastest of the group and lines up seventeenth on the Magny Cours grid.
Wurz slots in eighteenth, while the two Super Aguri’s finish ahead of the two Spyker’s, who finally managed to improve their times after going backwards during the two Friday practice sessions.
McLaren are going to have their work cut out tomorrow if they intend on beating the resurgent Ferrari’s to the podium. With Massa finding his sweet-spot again, you’d be a fool to bet against the diminutive Brazilian. Raikkonen must be kicking himself trying to find why he can’t seem to do much better than third at the moment, but the Scuderia look strong for a comeback finish tomorrow at the final French Grand Prix (for now, anyway).