French GP: Raikkonen leads Ferrari 1-2 for pole

Kimi Raikkonen

Another all-red front row, this time with Kimi Raikkonen taking the coveted pole position, his second this season and the sixteenth of his career, with his Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro teammate, Felipe Massa alongside him in second place, a mere four hundredths of a second behind. In fact, while the Finn took pole, it was the Brazilian who claimed the fastest lap of the day in the low-fuel configuration used in Q1.

The big statistical story of the day also belongs to the Scuderia as this was pole position number two hundred for the team: they date back to 1951 and the second year of the World Championship when Ferrari drivers started from the number one spot three times. There was a truly dominant performance in 1974 with the Prancing Horse galloping to ten poles, while the record so far is 2004, when the team had twelve to its name.

Lewis Hamilton was third fastest for McLaren, but will be demoted to 13th on the grid due to his penalty for hitting Raikkonen in the pit lane in Montreal two weeks ago.

That will elevate Fernando Alonso (Renault) to third place, with Jarno Trulli joining him on row two after an impressive effort for Toyota.

Kimi Raikkonen was happy with pole for the French Grand Prix but insisted he could have gone even faster on his final lap. The Finn aborted his final flying lap when team mate Massa failed to beat him onto pole.

"I was going quite a bit faster on my last lap, but the team told me to come in when it looked like I was ok for pole and I pulled in to save on lap of fuel, but I could have gone two tenths faster," Raikkonen said. "The car has been very good all weekend but tomorrow is the important day because we need to score the points."

Raikkonen only came through to the lead in the final part of qualifying. He explained, "It's nothing new for me not being quick in the first and second qualifying session because the car is different with the fuel levels. We've worked all weekend with race fuel so it's a bit different when you take it out."

Felipe Massa put his failure to secure pole position for the French Grand Prix down to the fact that he was pushing too hard on his final flying lap, and overdriving his Ferrari.

"I was overdriving the car a bit too much I think in the final lap and lost a bit of time because of that, just trying to push too hard," Massa said.

"I think front row is good and looking forward very much to the race tomorrow," he added. "The car feels very good. We've had many good races this year where the car has been very strong in similar configuration. I think we got the best out of the car today."

Lewis Hamilton was left disappointed after going third fastest in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, behind the two Ferraris. However, with his penalty from the Canadian Grand Prix, that means the McLaren driver will start tomorrow's race from thirteenth on the grid.

There is a precedent, however as Raikkonen started the race from thirteenth several years ago and still finished second.

"Kimi has shown that you can do it before," Hamilton said. "It's quite a disappointing qualifying for me and I apologize to the team because in my first lap I had a mistake that lost me three tenths. That's life but I was pushing and I was trying to get the most out of the car. We'll push very hard tomorrow."

"The penalty doesn't help, but you know entering the weekend you're coming here to win and you're feeling confident and comfortable but you automatically have a ten-place penalty," he added. "Rules are rules I guess and we'll just do the best job we can, learn from it and make sure we don't do it again."

After winning a fortnight ago, the BMW Sauber F1 Team had to cope with a rather disappointing qualifying result in Magny-Cours. Nick Heidfeld came 12th, while his team mate, Robert Kubica, just made it into the top ten of qualifying and in the end was seventh.

"It looks like we are having a difficult weekend," said Kubica. "After yesterday's free practice sessions I was expecting us to struggle. The balance of the car is not how I want it to be and my car has a poor overall grip. The gap to the top teams seems to have stayed the same, and at the same time the other teams obviously have made a big step forward. My goal now is to score as many points as possible in tomorrow's race, which certainly will not be easy."

Nick Heidfeld commented, "The circuit here in Magny-Cours is completely different to the one in Montreal, and right from the beginning of the weekend here we were not as good as we have been recently. But still we were hoping for a better qualifying. I'm 12th and Robert just made it into the top ten of qualifying – this is, of course, not what we at the BMW Sauber F1 Team expect from ourselves. If I just look at my situation I can see significant progress. I was much closer to getting the best out of the car. There were just hundreds of a second between Robert's and my lap times. I will be starting from 11th because Lewis Hamilton has to move back, and I can choose my fuel strategy for the race. Although even the best strategy doesn't improve the pace, we want to have a good race tomorrow."

Team boss Mario Theissen added, "Of course we are not happy with the qualifying result. However, we saw in the free practice sessions our car is not as quick as usual. Nick was unlucky today. Although being just six hundreds of a second slower than Robert, he missed the top ten qualifying. Also Robert's qualifying did not run smoothly. We changed from harder to softer tire compounds and then back to the harder ones. In the end, we just missed the second row. We will start the race from sixth and 11th. We will see after the first pit stops what we can achieve from these positions."

Today’s qualifying session in Magny Cours turned out to be character-building for the Honda team.

A lack of pace meant that Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello were unable to progress through to Q2 and they will line up in 16th and 17th positions respectively for the start of tomorrow’s 70 lap French Grand Prix following a grid position penalty to Nico Rosberg that moves them up one position.

Button completed three timed laps during Q1. He left the garage early in the session to set a lap of 1:17.144, after which he made set-up changes to his RA108. He improved his time to a 1:16.306 on his second lap, which placed him 17th overall, and he was unable to improve on his final run.

Barrichello completed two flying laps during the 20-minute session. His first, a 1:16.330, was just shy of his team-mate and when he didn’t improve on his second lap, he ended the session in 18th position.

However, while the first row is very definitely a Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro affair, the rest of the top places on the actual grid bear little relation to the actual qualifying time sheet. Lewis Hamilton will actually start from thirteenth, because he takes a ten place penalty for crashing into the back of Raikkonen's F2008 in Montreal a fortnight ago in that pit lane incident.

To make matter worse for McLaren-Mercedes, the Stewards deemed that Kovalainen had impeded another competitor this afternoon and given him a five place penalty. The Finn will start from tenth, because he was technically fifth because of the previous penalty for his team-mate. So behind Kimi and Felipe, the order is now Alonso, Trulli, Kubica and Webber rounding off the top six.

If the grid has turned out to be unpredictable, tomorrow's weather could be the same as the forecast for race start time at two o'clock is for isolated showers.

Team-by-team summary: Saturday, France

On low fuel, Felipe Massa is the fastest man at Magny-Cours, but in Q3 race trim, Kimi Raikkonen snatched Ferrari's 200th pole by the barest of margins. Massa, who twinged his neck earlier this weekend in what he describes as a "stupid" elevator incident, said he overdrove in Q3.

McLaren is not quite on Ferrari's pace at Magny-Cours, but Lewis Hamilton's P3 becomes P13 after his ten-position Montreal crash penalty. "I have to apologize to the team for making a couple of errors on my final runs in Q3," he said. Heikki Kovalainen has been consistently a few tenths further back here, and his P6 becomes P10, after stewards ruled that he drove slowly on an out-lap and held up Mark Webber. He called the events leading up to the Webber incident, also involving Kazuki Nakajima, a "mix-up".

As at the recent Barcelona test, Nelson Piquet sampled life atop a F1 timesheet on Saturday morning at Magny-Cours. He has been closer to Fernando Alonso all weekend in France, but reality set in for qualifying and he just missed the Q3 cut. Alonso's impressive P4 becomes P3 on the grid after Hamilton's penalty. "The car has really improved and so for the first time this season we have the real chance to fight for the podium," the Spaniard said.

Both Toyotas in the exclusive top ten, with Jarno Trulli – despite a Q3 spin – the standout performer. His P5 becomes P4 on the grid after Hamilton's penalty. "I didn't expect to be this quick," he said.

The morning timesheet gave a hint: despite the Montreal one-two, BMW-Sauber is not looking as strong as usual this weekend. Nick Heidfeld struggled the most and couldn't make it to Q3, but even championship leader Robert Kubica is just P7, albeit P5 after the McLaren drivers' penalties.

The signs were not good on Friday, but Mark Webber was as high as P2 in the morning practice session, and P8 – becoming P6 after the McLaren drivers' penalties – in qualifying. David Coulthard is the next man on the grid.

Sebastian Vettel's sensational practice speed continued with his P3 in the morning, netting him 13th on the grid – which becomes 12th thanks to Hamilton's penalty – and his teammate Sebastien Bourdais also broke through the Q2 barrier. "I can't say I'm angry not to make Q3," Vettel said, "but I am disappointed."

Nico Rosberg looked quick in the morning, but he went no further in qualifying after making it through Q1, and his P15 puts him dead last on the grid with his Montreal penalty factored in. "To be so far off the pace is surprising," he said. Nakajima failed to make it through P1.

Another dreadful showing by the Japanese giant: similar pace from both drivers, but faster only than the Force Indias. 'Character-building' was how the team's official post-qualifying document described it. "There is no more to come from the car," Rubens Barrichello said.

The Silverstone built racers are the slowest at Magny-Cours: a full sixth tenths behind the next slowest cars – the woeful Hondas – in the decisive session, but shuffled up a place each due to Rosberg's Montreal penalty. "It was a difficult qualifying session for us as the whole field is very close," said Fisichella, marginally quicker than Adrian Sutil.


1. Kimi Raikkonen Finland Ferrari 1:16.449
2. Felipe Massa Brazil Ferrari 1:16.490
3.* Lewis Hamilton Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1:16.693
4. Fernando Alonso Spain Renault 1:16.840
5. Jarno Trulli Italy Toyota 1:16.920
6. Heikki Kovalainen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 1:16.944
7. Robert Kubica Poland BMW Sauber 1:17.037
8. Mark Webber Australia Red Bull-Renault 1:17.233
9. David Coulthard Britain Red Bull-Renault 1:17.426
10. Timo Glock Germany Toyota 1:17.596
11. Nelson Piquet Brazil Renault 1:15.770
12. Nick Heidfeld Germany BMW Sauber 1:15.786
13. Sebastian Vettel Germany Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:15.816
14. Sebastien Bourdais France Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:16.045
15.* Nico Rosberg Germany Williams-Toyota 1:16.235
16. Kazuki Nakajima Japan Williams-Toyota 1:16.243
17. Jenson Button Britain Honda 1:16.306
18. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Honda 1:16.330
19. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Force India-Ferrari 1:16.971
20. Adrian Sutil Germany Force India-Ferrari 1:17.053
* Will drop 10 grid positions for penalty in Canadian GP.

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