Kimi Raikkonen has taken the pole position for what could be the final French Grand Prix at Magny Cours tomorrow. The Finnish driver didn’t go fastest in the first two sessions, but was always right behind his team mate, Felipe Massa, who went on to qualify alonside Raikkonen on the front row. Lewis Hamilton went P3 but will be demoted ten places following his penalty from the Canadian Grand Prix.
The sessions were quite exciting, but more so because some teams didn’t do so well as expected and some drivers seemed to be off pace in comparison to previous form. Let’s take a look at the three sessions.
From the very start of qualifying it was clear this afternoon would be about one team and the pole position would be fought between only two drivers. Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa looked very strong in the Ferraris and while Fernando Alonso was driving well in the Renault and Lewis Hamilton was said to be going for P1, the Scuderia just looked very good from the word go.
Unfortunately, BMW looked a little lost right the start as well. Robert Kubica was running reasonably well in his F1.08, but team mate Nick Heidfeld was really, really struggling in his. The German driver just managed to srcape his way into the second qualifying session, but it wasn’t until his final lap that the BMW pilot made it. What made his plight even worse was that it wasn’t traffic or tyres that hampered him. Heidfeld set a series of consistently off-pace laps and was running the softer of the tyre compounds.
Force India took up their usual positions on the back row, and for a while it looked as though Adrian Sutil would out-qualify his experienced team mate Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian managed to get ahead on his final run though and Sutil was pushed back to twentieth.
Honda were possibly the second biggest surprise of the session, but the Brackley team have been having a terrible race meeting since they arrived on Thursday. They said they weren’t expecting to do well at Magny Cours, but qualifying just ahead of the Force Indias is perhaps a little worse than even they were thinking.
Jenson Button qualified in seventeenth with team mate Rubens Barrichelo in eighteenth. After Barrichello drive so well in Canada to finish seventh and score some points, it is really disappointing to see the team so far back.
The second session was perhaps the most exciting, particularly at the end when all the cars were darting over the line all attempting to improve their times. But as with the first session, it was the Ferrari’s that looked strongest and Massa once again hogged the limelight ahead of his team mate. Q2 saw Fernando Alonso show some pace in his Renault R28 and the Spaniard placed his car in third.
At the end of the session a lot of drivers were setting faster laps than previous, but Ferrari remained in their garages not feeling the need to venture out as they were comfortably quickest. Nelson Piquet Jr. popped in a decent lap right at the end, the Brazilian starting to show some signs of improvement. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quick enough and a few moments later he was displaced by Timo Glock and David Coulthard. Nick Heidfeld was knocked out of qualifying in Q2 as well.
Early on in Q3 the Ferraris set their pace and although it was a quite a while before anybody ventured out on track, it was Raikkonen’s and Massa’s first set of attempts at flying runs which saw them dominate qualifying. Massa initially set the fast lap but a few seconds later Kimi Raikkonen eclipsed his team mate and went a tenth faster. The Scuderia would remain in their commanding positions right through to the chequered flag.
Both Toyotas made it through to Q3 and Jarno Trulli was once again the master of the one-lappers. The Italian qualified fifth and will be promoted to fourth after Hamilton moves backwards. Timo Glock, who scored his first points for Toyota in Canada a fortnight ago, qualified in tenth behind both Red Bulls of David Coulthard and Mark Webber, the Australian getting the better of the Scot. Also looking good in Q3 was Fernando Alonso and was comfortable in his Renault, going fourth for France and putting a smiles on many spectators faces.
Drivers not looking particularly sharp in the final qualifying run were Heikki Kovalainen and Robert Kubica. Kovalainen should have been closer to the front than he ended up, by all sense and logic the Finn should be trying to take points away from Ferrari and BMW as Hamilton languishes further behind. Kubica also looks out of place, the Pole coming back down to earth after his win in Canada two weeks ago.
In the press conference, Hamilton apologised for making mistakes, Raikkonen explained he was on a faster lap before aborting due to no one else beating his time and Massa admitted to over driving the Ferrari.
It was quite a disappointing qualifying for us and for me. I have to apologise to the team because I didn’t do a great job at all. On my first and second lap I made the same mistake on the exit of Turn 7. Lewis Hamilton.
That last lap I was at least two tenths faster so just at the last moment I turned in when I was at the last chicane, when the team told me to box.
We had good speed all weekend the car has been working well and it has been a great weekend so far but tomorrow we have to finish and hopefully we can win because we need some points. Kimi Raikkonen.
I was a little bit overdriving too much in Q3. I was trying to get the best out of the car and lost a little bit of time on the track and in a couple of corners trying to push too hard. Felipe Massa.
It is looking more and more like a Ferrari washout for tomorrow, but Fernando Alonso may be able to get in the mix a little and disrupt the order of play. Lewis Hamilton will need to do something special if he is to reclaim the lost positions, and although there was talk of the Briton being on a three-stopper, his qualifying time does not really indicate a light fuel-load. The scrap for the remaining points will likely produce the best battle in tomorrow’s race, with Toyota, Red Bull, McLaren and a BMW all looking at the fourth-thru-eighth places.