The big question after qualifying is this: how much fuel does Fernando Alonso have in his Renault?
The Spanish driver in his home race sent the crowd into rapture by snatching provisional pole position, only to lose it at the last to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen.
Lewis Hamilton moved to the top of the times early on and unusually Kimi Raikkonen chose to make two efforts to set a time. His final one moved him 0.6s clear of Hamilton at the top of the times.
There were 18 drivers out trying to set a lap in the dying stages of the session and predictably there was a big name knocked out who ended up blaming traffic. It was David Coulthard, who also confessed to making a small mistake in the final sector. Sebastian Vettel was also knocked out but team mate Sebastien Bourdais made it through to Q2.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part one
17. David Coulthard 1’21.810
18. Sebastian Vettel 1’22.108
19. Giancarlo Fisichella 1’22.516
20. Adrian Sutil 1’22.516
21. Anthony Davidson 1’23.318
22. Takuma Sato 1’23.496
The midfeld battle was as close as ever but this time neither of the Williams drivers made it through and both the Renaults got into the top ten.
Williams also came under pressure from the revised Hondas, running with their unattractive but apparently effective new ‘Dumbo’ wings on the front nose of the RA108. In a reversal of the usual pecking order Rubens Barrichello, 11th, beat Jenson Button and Kazuki Nakajima, 12th, headed Nico Rosberg.
Two drivers who appeared to struggle for pace at first were Felipe Massa and Nick Heidfeld, who later escaped the drop zone to get in the final ten.
Bottom six drivers’ times for part two
11. Rubens Barrichello 1’21.049
12. Kazuki Nakajima 1’21.117
13. Jenson Button 1’21.211
14. Timo Glock 1’21.230
15. Nico Rosberg 1’21.349
16. Sebastien Bourdais 1’21.724
The top ten comprised the usual suspects – Ferrari, McLaren and BMW – plus Renault, who got both cars into the top ten for the first time this year. Qualifying specialists Jarno Trulli and Mark Webber (despite his problems in practice) completed the top ten.
Massa was the first name to the top of the times sheets and Hamilton slotted in behind him – but neither were destined to start on the front lap.
Fernando Alonso’s 1’21.904 lap looked immaculate – but even taking into account the progress Renault have made since Bahrain, it looked like it might be fuel assisted. Pat Symonds did concede that “there was some strategy involved”.
That bumped Massa to third (he made a mistake in the final sector) and Hamilton to fifth – the McLaren driver said afterwards he was “shocked and stunned we didn’t have the pace on heavy fuel.” He was less than four hundredths of a second behind Massa.
Top ten drivers’ times for part three
1. Kimi Raikkonen 1’21.813
2. Fernando Alonso 1’21.904
3. Felipe Massa 1’22.058
4. Robert Kubica 1’22.065
5. Lewis Hamilton 1’22.096
6. Heikki Kovalainen 1’22.231
7. Mark Webber 1’22.429
8. Jarno Trulli 1’22.529
9. Nick Heidfeld 1’22.542
10. Nelson Piquet Jnr 1’22.699