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My take on Spanish GP qualifying
My take on Spanish GP qualifying
Posted By:   |  09 May 2009   |  3:36 pm GMT  |  28 comments

Jenson Button described his pole position here in Barcelona as ’the best pole I have ever had’ and it’s hard to argue.

He crossed the line to start the lap with only two seconds to spare after a mix up with his team over track position, which caused him to find BMW’s Robert Kubica in his path in the build up to the lap. He thought Kubica was on a hot lap and let him through, but he wasn’t and he then had to drop back to find a space. But he onlt had four seconds to spare on the lap, so he had to judge it carefully. “It could have gone horribly wrong, “ as he said.

But he mentally parked the stress of that and then he delivered a perfect lap, finding just under a second from his previous run.

His two main rivals for pole position, team mate Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel both improved by seven tenths of a second from their first runs, but the 29 year old championship leader showed he has the greater hunger. Vettel had used new tyres for both runs, whereas both Brawn drivers had used tyres on the first run and new ones on the second. New tyres are worth probably half a second, so actually Vettel did a great job.

I’m so impressed with his consistency. He has been in the top three in qualifying at every race. Here the Red Bull has less updates than the Brawn, so for him to split them in qualifying is a great effort.

Ferrari had a mixed day, with a real confidence boosting fourth place for Felipe Massa tempered by a shocking mistake with Kimi Raikkonen’s car for which both he and the team must take the blame. Raikkonen did just five laps in Q1 and set a time of 1m21.291.

I was in the McLaren garage for the first part of qualifying, standing in a new pod, smack in the middle of the garage, which is for VIP guests and sponsors, designed to get them really close to the action. It certainly does that and I will write a post on that another time, with images.

Anyway, part of the experience is listening to Lewis Hamilton’s team radio. With five minutes to go before the final runs, he asked his engineer, Phil Prue, what the cut off for making it into the top 15 would be. Prue looked at the computer and said, “1m 20.8, somewhere around there.”

Raikkonen was already four tenths off that so once again, as in Malaysia, the team was overconfident and paid the price. If Button wins again tomorrow, Kimi could be 38 points behind him and his chances of getting anything out of the championship ruined.

Everyone has brought some kind of updates here, but Ferrari is the team which has made the biggest gain, as you would expect really. Massa in fourth place with KERS has a great chance of leading on the first lap as he will gain 10 metres on the rest on the run down to the first corner. From there he has a chance because the long run pace of his car is good. It’s not as quick as Brawn, but it’s quick enough if he’s leading on lap one for him to score Ferrari\s first podium of the season.

Soon the KERS on the Ferrarin is going to be the thing which gets them ahead of Brawn and I asked Mercedes’ Norbert Haug whether he will sell his class leading system to Brawn if they represent Mercedes’ best chance of winning the chanpionship. He didn’t rule it out, but said that it would be hard to integrate into the Brawn car. Discussions are ongoing apparently.

Today was another example of how Button is growing into the role of F1 front –runner. He had a number of things to contend with and yet he mastered the situation and pulled out the performance when he most needed it.

Brawn have brought an updated package to this race with a new floor and new bodywork designed to give the car an extra 3/10ths of a second of performance. Buttton struggled in practice with the new parts and admitted that he had to copy some elements of Barrichello’s set up to get the car balanced in qualifying.

There’s no shame in that, Michael Schumacher use to do it regularly when he was team mates with the Brazilian at Ferrari.

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"There’s no shame in that, Michael Schumacher use to do it regularly when he was team mates with the Brazilian at Ferrari."

Regularly, that's a bit strong word I think as that would suggest Michael was unable to set-up his car by himself which is clearly not the case when we look at the fact he could do pretty well even when Rubens wasn't his teammate ;).

And I suppose Rubens too used Michael's set-up from time to time as it happens between teammates all the time. For example, much was said about Hamilton "copying" Alonso's set-ups in 2007, but in fact it happened a couple of times the other way around as well. That's the way it is.


I am very disappointed with Ferrari's mistake again and I can't blame Kimi more than 20% as there are quite a many guys on the pit wall to calculate and make the right decision on going out for another run. It is not the driver's task to calculate laptimes whilst driving the car. I also was very disappointed to hear on BBC DC and EJ blaming Kimi for the mistake, there is a race engineer, a team manager and a team principal to keep these things under controll. Many many mistakes from Ferrari and unforunatelly very similar ones time to time.

Tommy Karamin

Looking at the weights, it's dissapointing to see that Alonso is so much off the pace...Same load as Button but a lot slower. Good job from Massa! I think it's gonna be another great race tomorrow!


It was a masterful pole from the Frome lad. As you rightly said, he banished the Kubica issue from his mind and got on with the job in hand. Having seen the reply of the lap - I'm not sure there was any room for improvement. Stunning work.

In the post-qualy conference, SV said that he's pitting on lap 27, JB has another 5 laps in hand with a pit window around lap 32. Going to be a very interesting race as Barcalona is notoriously hard to
overtake on so pit strategy will be highly important - Round 1 to Brawn Racing methinks.

Great blog as always James.


Sorry James, but after seeing the published weights I dont think the star of qualifying was Button. It was Vettel (with Massa not far behind).


James, do you know if all of McLaren's upgrades have been made available to both drivers? Heikki seemed to really be struggling, try as he might he simply could not break out of Q1.


Button seemed so ordinary last year, I just wonder how the difference this year is really testament to his performance. I think many fans are entitled to feel that besides a few exceptions (eg Vettel), this year's championship is not yet between the best drivers.


And further to my point, fuel corrected Vettel was faster. I really think riddance of fuel-strategy Q3 next year will be good for the sport.


Not only does Massa have the start with KERS, but he is the longest-fuelled of the top 6, and fuel corrected pace is only a tenth off Button.

Every chance if he keeps it pointing forwards....


It seems that Rubens needs to become a bit more canny if he wants to win against his team mates -- he should either do something like what Alonso did to Lws (not to show his data) or do the appropriate changes at the last minute. Otherwise, what's the value of having experience on setting up the car if he can't use it to his advantage???


James, I live in California, have to say that being able to read your take on things F1 is really a treat. You seem to almost know what people are thinking, before they do. I've never been able to hear you as an on aiir commentator or reporter, But I fail to believe anybody could find fault with you thoughts,insights and comments. You, for me at least delve into the crux of the issues and always have informative AND interesting points to make. I specially like you summaries of the possibile play out if the races relative to fuel load and tire choice. I do have a question though, and would appreciate your knowlegable take on it.
Do you think requiring each car to run 2 types of tire during a race is good for racing, or if the tires were only one step apart and the teams could choose one or either, whether that might be better. I think forcing the change makes the situation some what contrived. I admit I probably haven't thought of all the reprocussions.


Another Quid, Massa to win if he does nothing stupid. He has Rob Smedley to back him up, can't help thinking that Rob would have got Kimi out again had he been his engineer. If the guy at McLaren has worked out the drop zone lap time it should not be too difficult for Ferrari to do the same. Maybe Kimi just couldn't wait for an ice cream


I cannot imagine that today's Ferrari, led by Domenicali, would ever hire a Kimi Raikkonen-type driver -- quick, mute and mindless. But I live in the hope that they will know when to cut their losses.

Given that driver salaries are not part of the new deal, they should take the earliest opportunity to park him on the nearest fjord before he wrecks what's left of their team morale and their confidence. The most expensive driver on the circuit should know better.

If he can't do media, he can't do testing, he can't do feedback and he can't seem to make the right decisions under pressure ... what value does he actually bring to the team?

Maybe Chelsea could use him ... as a chauffeur for Didier Drogba?


these mistake's are not good enough the pace shown by the revised FERRARI would have been good enough to have both cars in the top 5 . All kimi can hope for is fighting for tenth his whole weekend ruined by idiot's.The last time this happened some one was fired now surely stefano has to put his hand up BRING BACK TODT.


I have a small suggestion. Is it possible to list qualification taking into account the fuel adjusted and the relative performance on each car? Therefore it would be possible to establish the driver that made the best/worse job on the top ten.

For example, Alonso did not do very well based on his weight; however I do not known his relative performance to compare against the rest. Was that a good or a bad effort?
We know that BrawnGP and RB are the quickest, but how quick? A second, maybe half?
I think this will be helpful. Just a though.


Massa ready for his first win since his heart drive in Brasil 08.

John of Woking

I cant remember a pole lap that has been so out of the blue, how late in the session it came, how he was 0.2 seconds faster than anyone else in the last sector (where he made all his time) and how he seemed behind his team mate all the way through the weekend. Loved it!

Ok he's a little light but the front row is everything in Spain.


Looks like Massa might have a shot of a win, if he gets to the front at turn 1 then interferes with people's races. his quali was pretty good considering he has around 4 laps more fuel than Button.

Shame Kimi got caught out. I was furious watching that. I agree with an earlier poster, I am getting so fed up with Eddie Jordan complaining about Kimi. It was not his call. Yeah, he may be slightly to blame, but it was not entirely his decision.

Should be a good race. I am hoping it is not the usual Spanish GP boredom as hopefully people will be able to overtake now.


I agree, Kimi wasn't told to go out again, so he didn't. At the last race Kimi (well Ferrari) used to many soft tyres on Kimi's car in Q2 when he was clearly into Q1. So they did the opposite, did 5 laps and didn't get through. Also, Michael was there again, i'm sure it's not his fault but when he is there Kimi never has good luck!


I think EJ should care about his work on BBC first, because he is talking a lot of rubbish. A sportsman never will be motivated the same way when he has no chance to win races, do you think Hamilton as motivated as he would be in a winning car? So Kimi is maybe not 100% committed until he gets a car capable of winning. Otherwise we are talking about the Ferrari team which should have a strong team principal, race engineer etc to make the right decisions based on numbers on their screen. Even if Kimi says he feels he should not go out again they must calculate and review the situation. That team has a TEAM PRINCIPAL responsible for all decisions on track, period. I thought Hamilton fans are the ones who never acknowledge any of his errors.


Did you try driving that Honda? How could anyone look special in that?

It's probably fair to say that Button gave up a bit last year, as it's the only year in his time in F1 that he finished behind his team mate in the championship. Perhaps conceptrating on triathlons and the fact that he knew the car wasn't going to be developed at all last year affected his motivation.

Aside from that, having never been beaten by a team mate, it's hard not to say that he isn't a quality driver.

Having said that, Vettel is clearly something special too.


I think EJ was absolutely, 100% correct. Kimi hasn't looked the least bit interested in F1 since he won his title. The decision not to go out yesterday was his call and he got it wrong. Why won't Kimi's fans ever acknowledge his errors?


Strange comments from Vettel and Button those, just a bit of humorous banter perhaps. There's no way Button is doing 32 laps on 40kg of fuel, and Vettel doesn't have 27 laps worth either.


I think it's pretty good at the moment, the racing is close and interesting. Next year it will all get messed up again because there will be no refuelling, so the fastest car will qualify at the front, the slowest at the back and they will fill them up and send them out. So no reason why anyone should overtake anyone else.


And it is because he was unhappy about what happened with the extra run in Bahrain that they let him decide today...that's what I'm hearing


Sorry, but have you watched Kimi in the last five-six years? Don't you think there are at least ten people on the pit wall to calculate lap times and make a decision incl. Domenicali and Andrea Stella? Why don't you blame Massa for the same mistake in Singapure? Because he is paid less?


I don't think its much to do with Kimi, if they (Dyer and his rece engineer) tell him to go out he would. In Bahrain they used an extra soft set in Q2 and were not able to get a max lap time in Q3 on used tires, they wanted to do it better this time and it got worst. The problem is they made the same mistake with Massa before, so something is very wrong with decision making processes or feadbacks. Kimi needs to start winning again or will lose all of his motivation and go somewhere else to have fun which would be shame given his speed and race craft when he really cares.


yep - can't wait for it to be gone

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