Heikki Kovalainen has taken his maiden pole position ahead of tomorrow’s British Grand Prix. The Finnish driver looked very good in testing last week as he did yesterday during the free practice sessions. It was a close run qualifying session with a little rain thrown in for good measure, but on the last lap, Kovalainen blitzed the opposition with a moment he will treasure forever. And as if that wasn’t enough, Mark Webber planted his Red Bull RB4 alongside Heikki in second.
The first session was away very quickly as the teams looked up and saw dark clouds looming over the outer-edges of the Northamptonshire track. The forecasts in the proceeding week predicted some rain in the early part of the weekend, and most drivers went out early to put a banker in. Straight away Mark Webber was looking good in the Red Bull and Heikki posted a fine lap on hard tyres to go ahead of his team mate. Lewis Hamilton’s McLaren looked imperilous on some parts of the track but the wind was strong and caused a few moments for the drivers.
Sebastian Vettel was also on fire, the young German nailing the circuit getting into the top three for part of the session. David Coulthard, competing in his final qualifying session for the Formula One British Grand Prix was looking dangerously close to having his afternoon ending in disaster, managed to be one of the last drivers to post a decent lap before the rain came. On the fourteenth minute of the twenty-minute session, the menacing dark cloud gave way and a brief shower fell on part of the track.
It was looking as though those drivers in the dropzone would end up staying there as everybody flooded back into the pitlane and under shelter. However, after a couple of minutes the Hondas ventured out on track. The general concensus being that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Also going out were the Force Indias, both Giancarlo Fisichella and Adrian Sutil in the zone and looking likely to get stuck in Q1 again.
As the drivers passed the first sector Sebastien Bourdais went noticeably quicker than he had done before the rain shower, suggesting that it didn’t rain too heavily and the cars were unaffected. For sector two, Bourdais quickest of all and by the time he had completed his lap, he was into Q2 with a decent time. Bourdais was sixth!
Fisichella spun his Force India and couldn’t improve, and Jenson Button followed suit with a complete lap, but a slow time. Rubens Barrichello failed to get past Q1 as well, Nico Rosberg and Adrian Sutil being the other two. In fact, Rosberg is having a terrible weekend. According to the team, his car has a strange suspension-related problem that started on Friday. The team have stripped the car and tried various things to solve the issue, but they cannot find the source of the problem. And the problem is quite severe; the rear of Rosberg’s car was jumping up and down over the bumps and kerbs. And to rub salt into the wound, Nico’s FW30 is now in Parc Ferme and essentially cannot be touched until after the race.
With rain shower gone and the track looking good, the second qualifying session started although few ventured out on track. Eventually Renault sent Fernando Alonso out to set a lap and soon after everyone else took to the track. Hamilton’s first run was okay and it managed to get him ahead of Kovalainen, but once again all eyes were on Webber and the fine form he was on. As the Australian crossed the timing beacon, he was into third!
The second session also highlighted that Ferrari were not looking all that good, with Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen failing to seriously challenge the McLaren’s. Sebastien Vettel hurled his Scuderia Toro Rosso into Q3 with an impressive performance, but his team mate Bourdais couldn’t quite make it and dropped out of qualifying. Coulthard also dropped out along with Timo Glock, Jarno Trulli and Kazuki Nakajima.
With only ten minutes to go before the pole position would be known, the top ten drivers ventured out on to Silverstone’s tarmac. Kimi Raikkonen set a decent time on his first run, and although it would be no where near good enough for pole, he did the time with a huge slide partway around the lap. But Kimi wouldn’t be the only off of the afternoon as Lewis Hamilton got ragged and skated over the gravel and grass on his fast lap. Interestingly though, the Briton (or the team) chose not to abort the run and pit, and instead continued for another run. It was pointless though and Hamilton couldn’t lay down a decent lap time.
Of the final runs, Kimi Raikkonen went first and set a provisional pole time, but a few moments later all eyes were on Hamilton. Alas, he couldn’t do it and slotted in just behind Raikkonen on the timing sheet. The third driver to go for it was Webber, and boy did he go for it. As he came out of Woodcote and onto the start/finish straight, the Red Bull garage exploded with joy; their man was fastest. Realistically, only one other driver could take the position away from Webber, but unfortunately for them, that man was Kovalainen and he was on fire today.
Heikki took the pole on his last run and showed the world that McLaren made the right decision in hiring him at the end of 2007. The lap went very well and Kovalainen has made very few mistakes all weekend. His calm and collected nature has finally shone through and the grid for tomorrow’s race looks very, very interesting.
It was a great qualifying session and lots of action at the end of each part. I’m still not convinced this is the best format, but that is irrelevant when everything works out well. The rain added a little spice and I’m pleased that Heikki finally has a pole position. Let’s see what he can make of it in tomorrow’s British Grand Prix.