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F1 Hot News From Imola
By Andrew Maitland
April 24, 2004


Jenson on the Button
BAR erupted into emotional celebrations when its team members realised that Michael Schumacher or the BMW-Williams' would not beat Jenson Button's time.

It is the 24-year-old's, and the Brackley team's, first pole position.

'This is a fantastic moment,' said Jenson who, apart from a go-kart race last season, has not started a motor racing event from the front since F3 in 1999.

He added: 'It's great to break Ferrari's streak of poles so far this season.'

Paddock gossip, however, immediately turned to whether the Honda-powered 006 can match the so-far sterling race pace of Michael Schumacher over a full distance.

'We're under no illusions,' Button conceded.

'But the car feels great.'








Schu nearly lost it
For the first time this season, Michael Schumacher is not fast enough for pole.

The German lines up just third on the grid for his Ferrari team on home soil.

'Once I saw Jenson's lap,' he said, 'I knew it was all or nothing.

'But I overdid it at the Variante Alta and nearly lost it completely.

'I don't really think I was quick enough for pole anyway.'

Team boss Jean Todt said Michael's team-mate Rubens Barrichello (4th) was 'not impeccable' in the final sector of the track so probably could have gone better.

'At least the car was better today,' said a disappointed Rubens.








Montoya amazed
When Juan Pablo Montoya (3rd) saw the time Jenson Button could manage in final qualifying at Imola, he thought 'Jesus, how am I going to beat that one!?'

The Colombian reckons he has an 'excellent car' for the race.

'I'm pleased,' he said, 'even if I didn't match my pre-qualifying pace.'

Next on the grid is team-mate Ralf Schumacher, who is not unhappy.

'But on the other hand,' said the German, 'we were struggling with a couple of minor problems throughout the weekend and could not get rid of them completely.'








Still quite nervous
Fernando Alonso (6th) reckons he'll spend Sunday fighting at the front.

'In the race, we can be quick,' said the Spaniard who drives for Renault.

On a single lap, though, the R24 race car is still quite nervous.

Italian team-mate Jarno Trulli (9th) made a couple of little mistakes.

'But that only cost me a tenth or maybe two,' he said.

Director of engineering Pat Symonds confirmed the drivers' rumblings that the Renault's car balance was, as expected, 'reasonable - rather than perfect.'

'If the weather stays warm,' he added, 'we can be competitive in the race.'








Sato overdrives
While Jenson Button took it to pole, team-mate Takuma Sato could only drive his own Honda-powered BAR fast enough to trail by a second, down in seventh place.

'I didn't feel that I had a lot of grip,' said the unsatisfied Japanese.

'I was possibly riding the kerbs too much.'








Klien avoids penalty
Christian Klien smashed up his Jaguar in Saturday morning practice.

The 21-year-old (14th) had to drive the spare R5 in qualifying.

'I just braked too late at turn 12,' Klien, from Austria, explained.

CAR CHANGE

To avoid a grid demotion penalty, Jaguar changed the car but not the engine.

Aussie team-mate Mark Webber (8th) was still a full second faster at Imola.

'I didn't go too well in pre-qualifying,' he explained, 'so we changed the front flap and it seemed to work well. I'm aiming for some points here in Italy.'








Loss of concentration
Cristiano da Matta (10th) reckons he could have been top-six at Imola.

'I pushed too hard in sector one,' said the Brazilian, 'and it cost me time.'

Toyota team-mate Olivier Panis said a loss of concentration slowed him down.

'I had an electronic problem on the warm-up lap,' said the 13th-placed Frenchman, 'and was close to stopping the car, but then the system came back.

'Maybe it affected how I went into the flying lap.'








Raikkonen woe - again
How much worse can it get before things start improving?

That must be what Kimi Raikkonen is asking himself after qualifying at Imola.

After the Finn's first run, McLaren decided to change his Mercedes-Benz V10 powerplant when engineers discovered a leak in an exhaust valve seatring.

As a result, he didn't complete a timed lap counting towards the grid.

'That's the same sort of thing two races in a row,' he moaned.

DETERMINATION

'But I'll have a new engine and a lot of determination tomorrow.'

Team-mate David Coulthard hauled his own MP4-19 up to eleventh on the grid.

He locked up at the first and final chicanes, which cost him some time.

'Generally, though, our pace has been better here,' said the Scot.

'I have no doubt we will make progress - it'll just take some time.'








Fisichella's gearbox broke
Giancarlo Fisichella felt something wrong with third gear.

The Roman was cruising back to the pits after his pre-qualifying run when he radioed the team and told them to start getting ready for a transmission change.

'But there just wasn't enough time,' he explained.

DISAPPOINTED

'So here I am at the back of the grid. I'm really disappointed.'

Sauber team-mate Felipe Massa (12th) was happier with his C23 on Saturday.

The Brazilian made a mistake in pre-qualifying and 'given the [race] strategy we have chosen,' he continued, 'I'm satisfied with my performance this afternoon.'








Pantano outpaces
That's the way to fend off a nasty bout of speculation ...

Italian rookie Giorgio Pantano, reportedly in fear of losing his Jordan race seat to F1 veteran Jos Verstappen, outqualified Nick Heidfeld on home soil.

'I'm feeling a little bit more positive at this race,' he said.

'I'm getting much closer to my teammate and that's the important thing.'

CHANGES

Team sources said Pantano's race engineer Dominic Harlow made a 'number of changes' much to his liking after the pre-qualifying run at the Imola track.

Heidfeld, one place back in 16th, grappled with oversteer in his EJ14 and got a bit sideways at Aqua Minerale even after making a number of small car changes.

'At the start it wasn't too bad,' said the German.

'Otherwise, we have some new things and the car has improved since Bahrain.'








Minardi not proud
Saturday was not a good one at the office for Zsolt Baumgartner.

The Hungarian crashed his car at Variante Alta in practice and had to switch to the spare for qualifying, but again he spun at Alta and did not set a grid time.

'It was set up for Gimmi,' he said of the spare Minardi.

'The guys changed the settings but it felt different.'

Gianmaria Bruni was a whopping 3 seconds slower than the nearest Jordan.

'I hit the kerb so hard at the final corner,' said the Italian.

'I accidentally pressed the pit lane speed limiter.'

A team source said Minardi will run its new aero package in the race.

'We can't be proud of what we did today,' said team boss Paul Stoddart.








Montoya ran light
Juan Pablo Montoya was running a light fuel load in pre-qualifying.

'We wanted to run last for the final run,' he told reporters at Imola.

OUTPACED

'It worked quite well because the track got better as it went on.'

Third on the grid is the first time he's outpaced Ralf Schumacher here.








Life's exciting moments
A racing veteran, David Richards nonetheless described Saturday at a sunny and warm Enzo e Dino Ferrari track in Italy 'one of life's most exciting moments.'

The BAR chief's young star, Jenson Button, took his and BAR's first ever pole.

'His calm and committed lap was superb,' said the Englishman.

Technical director Geoff Willis was delighted - but equally unsurprised.

He said: 'Following our last tests we felt confident we'd be quick here.'








They disagree
Even in celebration, they disagreed at Imola.

Honda's Shuhei Nakamoto said pole 'means a lot' because the last time a Japanese-powered car started from the front was with Ayrton Senna and McLaren.

Eddie Jordan, whose cars are faster than a couple of Minardis, begs to differ.

The Irishman said Honda's last pole was with his team, in 1999.

Jordan, now powered by customer Fords, congratulated BAR by remembering when Heinz-Harald Frentzen drove his 'Mugen Honda' to the front in Nurburgring.








Ferrari onlookers
Ferrari has a few dignified guests watching on at the Imola race track.

Employees of the Ferrari-Maserati Group are at the 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari' circuit in a special grandstand to give the F1 team an 'extra boost,' said Jean Todt.

Another important onlooker is Bridgestone CEO Shigeo Watanabe.

It is the Japanese's first visit to a grand prix this season.

'It is disappointing not to see Michael go on to the pole again,' he smiled.








Old team admire Jenson
Even his old team had to admire Jenson Button's pace at Imola.

'Well done to him,' said his former BMW-Williams cohort Ralf Schumacher.

CONGRATULATIONS

Dr Mario Theissen also passed on his 'congratulations' to the race ace who made his debut in a BMW-powered car just as the Grove collaboration began in 2000.

'He did a bloody good job,' the man who replaced him, Juan Pablo Montoya, added.

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