Kimi Raikkonen may have claimed his first pole position of the year, but all the talk in the Spanish paddock is of local hero Fernando Alonso. The double world champion has been enduring a tough year so far in the under-performing Renault R28, but in front of his adoring home crowds, Alonso slapped his car on provisional pole for a few moments, before Raikkonen demoted him to second where he remained. With the fans erupting in joy and applauding Fernando, his position may not last all that long in tomorrow’s race. Speaking to ITV after the session, Pat Symonds stated that it is clear Alonso and his team mate are not on the same strategy.
Speaking of which, Nelson Piquet Jr made his first appearance in Q3 this afternoon, the Brazilian driver highlighting the improvements made to the car in the last three weeks of intensive testing. Thus far in 2008 Nelson has failed to impress me, having an even worse start to his maiden year than Heikki Kovalainen did last time around. If I’m honest, Piquet Jr still isn’t making me look up and take notice, but the young charger is clearly improving with the car.
McLaren aren’t looking particularly well at the moment, the drivers going fifth and sixth , Lewis Hamilton pipping his team mate. Hamilton had a sizable moment earlier in the afternoon, a sign that he wasn’t entirely happy with the set up of his MP4-23. However, knowing that qualifying wasn’t going their way it is likely that the team have pumped a fair amount of fuel in the car, intending to see him quite some way into tomorrow’s race.
BMW also didn’t perform to their usual standard and look decidedly off pace this weekend. Robert Kubica hauled his F1.08 into fourth, but Nick Heidfeld has disappointed with ninth.Along with McLaren they are probably aware of their troubles have have added a fair bit of fuel to the cars to see them be able to fight with the Woking team for remainder of the points.
Red Bull Racing have endured another bitter-sweet qualifying session, this time Mark Webber getting the legs on his team mate and going seventh. Conversely however, David Coulthard didn’t get any more than 20 minutes running, the Scot failing to get past Q1. Sister team Scuderia Toro Rosso were more consistent, with Sebastien Bourdais getting into Q2, but going slowest in that session and Sebastian Vettel only getting as far as eighteenth.
Toyota enjoyed a reasonable day, with Jarno Trulli looking quite handy for much of the 45 minutes of track time available to the drivers. The Italian driver finished his afternoon in eighth and will be looking for a few more points tomorrow to add to his haul of 8 so far. Timo Glock, who is usually not too far behind his team mate couldn’t quite manage a similar feat this time around, only setting the fourteenth quickest lap time.
Kazuki Nakajima managed to out-qualify his team mate Nico Rosberg, although celebrations will be muted as Nakajima sits in twelfth and Rosberg in fifteenth. It seems as though Williams have taken the FW30 in a wrong direction since the first race of the season in Australia. I was hoping for a turn-around now they have had chance to test prior to the European leg of the campaign, but at the moment it appears the Oxfordshire-based team haven’t been able to get back on track. Honda enjoyed a small resurgence at Barcelona though, and although they haven’t peaked particularly high, both drivers have started to perform well with the car. Rubens Barrichello delighted fans and team members by qualifying eleventh, Jenson Button sits directly behind his team mate on the grid in thirteenth.
Force India, who have been pumped up all weekend and are now enjoying relative luxury courtesy of a new motor home (which mirrors neighbouring McLaren’s Brand Centre), were hoping to get into Q2 for the first time this year. However, the enthusiastic team will have to wait another fortnight before they can consider such an achievement again, for Giancarlo Fisichella could only get as high as nineteenth, Adrian Sutil going 0.7s slower and slotting in next to the Italian on the grid. Super Aguri qualified for the race, Anthony Davidson getting the better of Takuma Sato and both drivers managing to close the gap to Force India, the difference only being a tenth or so.
Tomorrow’s race looks set to be a relatively straight-forward event. Fernando Alonso, although looking great at the front of the pack again, is likely to be pitting early. However, his position will only hamper the McLarens who will be trying to make up as many places as possible from the start-line. Watching the BMW’s will be interesting as the team clearly appear to a little off this weekend. They may be able to convert their qualifying strategy into some form of decent race pace though, so I think Heidfeld will be able to push further into the top four-six.
Images courtesy of Ferrari and Sutton Images.