Saturday, 30 June 2007

Massa takes pole, Alonso compromised

Felipe Massa pipped Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the French Grand Prix today much to the delight of a rejuvenated Ferrari squad. Fernando Alonso’s chances of taking the top spot were severely compromised after a gearbox problem put an end to his qualifying session – he will start the race from 10th on the grid.

Disaster for Alonso. Mclaren have had such fantastic reliability this year so it came as something of a shock to see the Fernando sit out the qualifying session. Thank goodness he didn’t have to change his engine and take a grid penalty.

On the one hand it is slightly disappointing not to have both Ferrari and Mclaren battling it out on the top. However, Alonso is by no means out of the picture. Tenth position isn’t too far back and the Adelaide hairpin does provide some opportunity for overtaking. I’m looking forward to see him battle his way through the traffic. Watch out for that first lap though, I’m expecting chaos down to that hairpin.

Once again Massa sprung a surprise to take pole. A member of my family described the Brazilian has a “crafty little monkey”. Indeed, I was expecting Raikkonen to take the top spot today. Both Ferrari looked pretty evenly matched in qualifying two so I wouldn’t be surprised if Raikkonen is carrying a heavier fuel load. And if Hamilton’s body language in the press conference is anything to go by he too could be running a few laps longer.

It is mighty close between those top three. Hamilton looked awesome through the last sector and perhaps has a tiny bit more time in hand given that he had a scruffy first sector.

I’m slightly worried about the start. I wouldn’t be surprised if Massa and Hamilton have a coming together. Massa has something to prove against Hamilton after their shenanigans at Sepang. And if Hamilton goes for one of his first corner lunges up the inside don’t expect Massa to leave the door open. Indeed, I think the fact that he came out on top after Alonso tried his hand at the first corner of the Spanish Grand Prix will have given him something of a confidence booster in startline combat.

Further down the grid we have got the Renaults of Fissichella and Kovalainen looking in pretty good shape at their team’s home track. It will be interesting to see who comes out on top in the battle between BMW Sauber and Renault.

BMW to some extents have flat lined. They have never really looked as though they could take the fight to the Ferrari’s and Mclarens. Excellent job by Kubica though. ITV Sport’s Mark Blundell was commenting how drivers simply dust themselves off and get on with the job after a big accident. But there is no way that you are going to convince me that an impact like Kubica’s doesn’t have any effect on a driver. So I thought his performance today was pretty special.

After performing strongly in practice a notable absence from the top ten are the Adrian Newey designed cars. Reliability problems yet again prevented David Coulthard from making the top ten. Meanwhile Mark Webber simply didn’t get it together. As far as I know he didn’t suffer from any traffic problems so he really only has himself to blame. The pace was there as he demonstrated in the first session by going sixth fastest.

Honda have showed some signs of improvement with Button and Barrichello lining up 12th and 13th. Their new B-spec car doesn’t seem to have lifted them radically up the grid though.

And finally poor Alexander Wurz still doesn’t look as though he has got to grips with the qualifying format.

Qualifying Times:

1. MASSA Ferrari 1m15.034s
2. HAMILTON McLaren 1m15.104s
3. RAIKKONEN Ferrari 1m15.257s
4. KUBICA BMW 1m15.493s
5. FISICHELLA Renault 1m15.674s
6. KOVALAINEN Renault 1m15.826s
7. HEIDFELD BMW 1m15.900s
8. TRULLI Toyota 1m15.935s
9. ROSBERG Williams 1m16.328s
10. ALONSO McLaren no time
11. SCHUMACHER Toyota 1m15.534s
12. BUTTON Honda 1m15.584s
13. BARRICHELLO Honda 1m15.761s
14. WEBBER Red Bull 1m15.806s
15. SPEED Toro Rosso 1m16.049s
16. COULTHARD Red Bull no time
17. LIUZZI Toro Rosso 1m16.142s
18. WURZ Williams 1m16.241s
19. SATO Super Aguri 1m16.244s
20. DAVIDSON Super Aguri 1m16.366s
21. ALBERS Spyker 1m17.826s
22. SUTIL Spyker 1m17.915s

Picture: BBC Sport

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