Japanese GP - All-red second row
An all-red second row for Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro behind an all-silver front row for McLaren-Mercedes on a day badly affected by the temperamental weather here in the shadow of Mount Fuji. The past few days here near Japan's highest and most famous mountain have been spent in warm and dry conditions, but rain began to fall during the night and by this morning, Mount Fuji and indeed much of the circuit was shrouded in mist and light drizzle. The morning free practice session was abandoned because of the poor conditions after just three drivers - Wurz, Rosberg and Trulli - had set a lap time. Others did just a single installation lap, while Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen chose to stay in the warmth of his garage. Therefore the first ever qualifying session at the new Mount Fuji layout was a real step into the unknown, as it was run in permanent, if slightly improving, wet conditions, everyone running on both types of rain tyre, "extreme" in the early stages and "wet" towards the end.
Some traffic and gearbox electrics causing a few headaches for Kimi Raikkonen and a handling imbalance for Felipe Massa on new tyres in the crucial final stages is all it took in this closely fought session, for the Finn to take third and the Brazilian to take fourth place, behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton on pole and his team-mate Fernando Alonso in second spot. Fifth place went to the ever consistent Nick Heidfeld in the Sauber-BMW ahead of Nico Rosberg in the Williams-Toyota. However, the Finn will drop ten places on tomorrow's grid, his car having required an engine change. This promotes the Honda of Jenson Button to the outside of the third row.
Weather conditions are expected to be changeable again tomorrow, although not quite so bad as today's with the possibility of a drier track than we saw this afternoon. This could make for some interesting scenarios, as today, some drivers have chosen to sacrifice qualifying pace, in order to run with a car set-up that might better suit a dry track. In order to fit in better with European TV viewing habits, the 67 lap race will start at 13h30 local time.
"Quite a good qualifying session," said Kimi afterwards. "I could probably have got a better grid position but I came up against a bit of traffic and also had a small problem with the electronic management of the gearbox which cost me precious time. Of course it was something of a gamble starting qualifying in the wet without having ever run in these conditions but it only took a handful of laps to find the right line. I expect tomorrow's race will be very tight. As we could work out from yesterday's practice, it is very close between us and our main rivals. Overall, the car worked well and I think I can be competitive in the wet or dry."
Jean Todt said, "A different qualifying session to usual, given that this morning, because of adverse weather, the final free practice session hardly took place at all. Today's result is further confirmation of just how close things are between us and our closest rivals, given that the four cars are all within two tenths, this time with ours on the second row. We are aware how important is the final result in terms of the Drivers' Championship and we will give it our best shot in the race. Apart from the usual factors - strategy, reliability and the work of the team and drivers - it is obvious that the weather will also play an important role. Today, with both types of rain tyre being used, we had further confirmation of the great job that Bridgestone is doing in its role as sole tyre supplier and I thank them for this."
Luca Baldisserri commented, "Qualifying was a lottery in terms of defining car set-up. For sure, the session did not run as smoothly as oil. Several times, traffic did not help and we also had an electronic management problem on Kimi's gearbox which penalized him a bit in the final part of Q3. Having said that, we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out if the choices we have made, both in terms of strategy and set-up, are the right ones. Whatever happens, we can expect a very closely contested race."