Saturday, 25 July 2009

Hungarian Grand Prix Qualifying

There was a peculiar choice of features from the BBC before qualifying as they first devoted an extraordinary amount of airtime to Jarno Trulli’s charity, then showed us what looked like an expensively made film from Finland.

Trulli’s noble endeavour to raise money for the victims of the horrendous earthquake in his home region of Abruzzo is worthy of praise, and he has clearly been doing some great work to raise funds, and bring hope to the people still living in tented villages. However, the fifteen minute feature seemed a little excessive – I wonder how hard he had to lobby the BBC to get that sort of exposure.

Next up was a film showing Heike Kovalainen riding his skidoo across the snowy wastes of his native Finland. Then we cut to a Nordic log cabin and Jonathan Legard interviewing the driver around a wood fire. It all seemed a little over the top to discover that the young fella was committed to winning and focused on one race at a time.

As we returned to Hungary, where there’s a race happening this weekend, the team were in the Red Bull garage. David Coulthard has clearly been taking lessons from Martin Brundle, and took a microphone around the garage, poking it under the noses of the startled backroom team.

Of course, he was driving for that team less than a year ago, and he is still on the Red Bull payroll as a consultant – whatever that means – so he has amazing access. Still it was odd that, ten minutes before the first qualifying session started, the team were happy for him to wander around distracting him.

The Hungaroring near Budapest was described this week by Murray Walker as “Monaco without the houses.” This is an elegant way of saying it’s bloody impossible to overtake, thus making qualifying more crucial than usual.

In the first qualifying session, the cars danced around the track like Kovalainen skidoo on a frozen lake. Grip was clearly an issue and several drivers found themselves going wide on corners.

Since the last race, Torro Rosso carried through on their threat to sack Sebastian Bourdais, bringing in nineteen-year-old Jaime Alguersuari. Extraordinarily, due to the ban on in-season testing, he had never driven a Formula One car before today. The other drivers muttered that it was unsafe to have him thrown straight into a Grand Prix. I suspect they are just bitter at Alguersuari’s direct route to success – like veteran stand-up comics slogging off young comedians with a Channel 4 series because they haven’t “played the clubs.”

Torro Rosso get their new boy out early so he could drive himself into some kind of comfort. Unfortunately, he was tracking only eighteenth in qualifying when he went out for a second run. Moments later, the car was rolling to a halt with an apparent mechanical fault, bringing out the yellow flag, and condemning Alguersuari to the back row in his first Grand Prix – about the same as Bourdais. But I’m sure he’ll improve.

Incidentally, poor old Bourdais is taking legal action against the team for firing him. I don’t envy him a court case where his former employers try to legally prove he is incompetent. That’s not going to be a fun few days is it?

The whispers gathering around the Renault team was that Nelson Piquet could be next to get the boot. This weekend, he has been given all the upgrades that his teammate Fernando Alonso has had for several races, but the implied arrangement was that he needed to use them to perform or he would be out.

He came storming through the first session, out-qualifying Alonso and finishing fifth. However, in the second session, normal service was resumed, Piquet finishing fifteenth, where he will start the race. Flavio Briatore, his team boss, has previously fired drivers mid-season, and Piquet will need a great race tomorrow if he wants to avoid signing on next week.

With the last couple of races seeing Red Bull overhauling Brawn’s early-season supremacy, there was a school of thought before this weekend that the higher temperatures in Hungary would lead to Brawn restoring their dominance. However, the evidence of qualifying disproved that notion.

Neither Brawn driver looked particularly comfortable and Rubens Barrichello actually failed to make it into the final qualifying session.

It has been a difficult fortnight for Rubens. After a frustrating race in Germany, where team tactics arguably cost him several places, he reacted angrily (and very publicly) straight after the race. Still in his race gear, and with the anger evident on his face, he told reporters, “It was a good show from the team of how to lose a race. I did all I had to do, I was first to the first corner. They made me lose it.”

Since then, he has apologised to Ross Brawn and the rest of the team, but he is clearly not a man in the zone. As today’s qualifying showed, the difference between success and failure is measured in tenths of a second – if Barrichello is not 100% settled, then his performance will suffer.

There was an ominous period in between the second and third qualifying sessions, as the second had been effectively ended by the yellow flag which followed Felipe Massa driving his car directly into the tyre wall.

He appeared to have driven directly off the track and into the wall with no effort to turn his wheel. The speculation on potential car problems was wild, but the mystery began to unfold when Barrichello came out and explained his lack of performance in Q2 by saying that his rear suspension had felt odd and he had lost grip.

Replays showed that a small metal tube had fallen away from Barrichello’s car, thus slowing him down, but had then bounced up and struck Massa on the side of the helmet, knocking him senseless for a few moments, during which time he left the tarmac and came to an abrupt halt in the tyres.

Massa took no further part in qualifying but, by the end of the session, reports suggested he was nothing worse than shaken up. With him relegated to tenth, and Barrichello even further back, the results of qualifying gave us a diverse grid.

On the front row, Fernando Alonso put the boot into Piquet by winning his first pole since he was world champion. Red Bull maintained their presence at the front with Vettel in second, and Webber in third. Lewis Hamilton recorded his best qualifying position of the season with a fourth place start, and poor old Jenson Button was seventh.

Related Articles:
Last Race – German Grand Prix. 12th July 2009
Last Qualifying – German Grand Prix Qualifying. 11th July 2009

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