Italian GP - No red on front row
Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo made his traditional Saturday visit to Monza and was a keen spectator from the pit wall but he was not treated to the much hoped for result as Felipe Massa was locked out of the front row which turned into an all-McLaren-Mercedes affair, with Fernando Alonso taking pole position and Lewis Hamilton alongside him.
The pundits had reckoned that BMW-Sauber would be a force to be reckoned with at this high speed circuit and the prediction has proved to be correct, as Massa has Nick Heidfeld alongside him, with Kimi Raikkonen lining up behind his Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team mate in fifth place on row three. For our Finnish driver, this was quite an achievement, as he had a heavy crash in this morning's free practice session at the Ascari chicane, which resulted in an extensively damaged F2007. Kimi blamed the accident on the fact that the rear wheels locked up as he braked over a bump going into the corner. The mechanics did a fantastic job - not to repair the car as it was too badly damaged - but to remove its engine and fit it in the spare car in time for qualifying, so that there are no grid penalties for Raikkonen and he will start from fifth spot tomorrow.
While it is true that the "tifosi" were hoping for a Ferrari pole, the team knew from testing last week and the rest of this weekend, that the closest rivals had the F2007 slightly on the back foot when it comes to doing a single quick lap which of course is the key to qualifying. However, unlike a track like Budapest for example, overtaking is a distinct possibility at this high speed and historic venue, which means we could be in for a fascinating contest tomorrow afternoon. Unless anything unforeseen happens, it won't take too long to see who gets to the top step of the podium, as in terms of time, the high speeds mean this is usually the shortest race of the year.
In terms of strategy, Monza used to offer several possibilities, but the time now lost when making a pit stop, because of the pit lane speed limit means that a single stop is a possibility with two stops the only other real option.
"The accident this morning certainly didn't help for qualifying, also considering the time lost in yesterday afternoon's free practice," Kimi said after qualifying. "I locked the wheels under braking and the car went right rather than left. At that moment there was not much I could do but accept that I would end up in the barrier. The McLarens were strong in the test and in free practice, so I don't think there was much I could have done about getting pole position. All the same I think we can get a good result given our pace over a longer distance. It definitely won't be the first time that we have had the odd difficulty in qualifying and then been very competitive in the race. I will do all I can to give our fans something to cheer about."
Jean Todt commented, "After what we learnt at last week's test here and in yesterday's free practice, we expected a tough qualifying and so it was. On a single lap our rivals are very strong but we are aware that we have a very competitive race pace. The crucial factors for tomorrow's race will be the same as always: reliability, strategy, the work of the team and the drivers and consistency of performance. Clearly, we are keen to do well here at Monza in our home race in front of our fans and our employees who will pack out their own special grandstand."
Luca Baldisserri also said, "This was definitely a very difficult day. This morning we had Kimi going off the track, after he lost control of the car when braking on a bump going into Ascari. We found no signs of a mechanical failure and so we carried on working with Felipe. We fitted the T-car chassis with the engine from the damaged car but of course, the set-up was not perfect and also given the time lost in the last two sessions of free practice, Kimi's chances in qualifying were definitely compromised. We knew our closest rivals would have the edge over the single lap and Felipe, while giving it his all, could not get higher up the order than third. But we have a strong race pace and so we can be cautiously optimistic about the race tomorrow, where we will try to do our best, for us, for our fans and for our colleagues who are here supporting us."