Montmelo, 11 May – The top eight cars on the grid for the Spanish Grand Prix all set lap times within the same one tenth of a second, from 1.20.718 to 1.21.570, but if you’re looking for something even closer, what about the one thousandth of a second separating Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa? The two Ferrari men took identical routes through the three sections of this afternoon’s qualifying in terms of tyre useage and eventually set almost identical times on their way to fifth and sixth spots on the time sheet, the Spaniard having the marginal edge here at his home race and thus getting to start from the clean side of Row 3. Having been fastest in this morning’s final free practice, Felipe actually looked to be heading for pole on his final lap, but then lost time in sector 3. There was worse to come for the Brazilian as the Stewards deemed he had impeded Mark Webber during Q2 and imposed a three place grid penalty on the Ferrari man, who will now start ninth on the inside of Row 5. Felipe is not exactly in agreement with the Stewards, but as always the team accepts the official decision.
After a cloudy start to Saturday in this part of Catalunya, the temperatures increased as the sun came out, while at the same time the wind blowing against the cars down the main straight increased in intensity. All three sessions were relatively straightforward, with Caterham, Marussia and last year’s Spanish pole and race winning team Williams, failing to get to Q2, while Jenson Button in the McLaren was the most high profile casualty of the cut to Q3. Even though the margins were very small, one team dominated with Nico Rosberg taking pole ahead of Lewis Hamilton, thus creating an all-silver Mercedes front row for tomorrow. The second row features the two men currently at the top of the Drivers’ classification, Sebastian Vettel, third fastest for Red Bull, ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the Lotus. When the lights go out tomorrow afternoon, Fernando will now have Romain Grosjean in the other Lotus next to him, while his mirrors will be full of Mark Webber in the Red Bull and Sergio Perez in the McLaren, these three being the principal beneficiaries of Felipe’s penalty. Felipe will now have Paul di Resta on his outside, tenth for Force India.
Strategically, it promises to be an interesting fifth round of this year’s World Championship, with three stops seeming the most logical and quickest way to complete the 66 laps of the Catalunya Circuit, although four stops might even be a possibility. That being the case, the drivers will not have to worry too much about tyre wear, as in past races this season, and should be able to push all the way from lights-out to chequered flag. However, choosing the right time to pit for fresh rubber will, as always be one of the key elements of a race. When the lights go out, watch closely, because the F138 has proved to be quick off the mark and the two Ferrari men will be keen to dispose of some of their rivals as quickly as possible as they head down that long Catalunya pit straight.