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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Melbourne Pole for Button and Honda

Melbourne Pole for Button and Honda
Australian GP - Qualifying

It was certainly a case of mixed fortunes for Honda today as Jenson Button secured his first Pole Position since Montreal last year, while team-mate Rubens Barrichello found himself eliminated form the first phase of qualifying after setting the 17th best time. "It's a very special feeling," said the delighted Button. "I've already seen a few of the guys from Honda and they seem pretty ecstatic, but more important for them will be to have a win tomorrow..."The three-phase qualifying session certainly brought a few surprises this afternoon in Australia. While Button took a superb Pole with a best lap of 1:25.229s, Giancarlo Fisichella was 'pretty happy' as he continued the momentum from Sepang, recording the second best time in his Renault to start along the British racer. Fernando Alonso showed stunning ‘race fuel’ pace early in the final phase of qualifying, but found himself a tenth off Fisichella’s best as the fuel load lightened in those critical final few laps. However, starting third, Alonso is by no means out of contention for the race win tomorrow afternoon. "I'm confident I can drive for the win here...

"Kimi Raikkonen starts fourth in his McLaren Mercedes while team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya spun away his chance of going for Pole Position and starts fifth in the sister MP4-21. Montoya looked to have the pace to challenge Button’s pole time in the final minutes of the session, but a poor final sector on his very final lap put paid to his chances. Toyota has a great deal to smile about today as not only did Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli qualify sixth and ninth respectively, but the team also took the honour of being the fastest Bridgestone entry on a day when Ferrari firmly shot itself in the proverbial foot. Mark Webber had a solid qualifying session in his Williams Cosworth and starts the race from seventh position. The FW28 package does not look as driveable in Melbourne as it did in Malaysia two weeks ago. Webber survived one lurid off track moment while team-mate Nico Rosberg has not looked comfortable with his setup and starts the race from 14th position. Nick Heidfeld qualified his BMW Sauber in a fine eighth position while team-mate Jacques Villeneuve set the ninth best time but drops to 19th position due to his engine change penalty.

It was a nightmare of a day for Ferrari. Both Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa made it through the first phase of qualifying but in the second 15 minute session, Massa hooked his left wheels over the kerbing and seconds later found his tail-happy 248 F1 travelling rapidly backwards into the tyre wall. Massa was unhurt but his Ferrari was badly damaged. Massa starts 15th. Michael Schumacher meanwhile rushed out of the Ferrari pit following the red flags to sweep away Massa’s Ferrari. Unbeknown to the former Champion, a brake cooling device was still attached to the car snd whilst exiting the pits the device flew off and shattered into small pieces. It mattered little as the car was not on the pace of the front-runners and as the briefest of rain showers right at the close of the second phase of qualifying, Schumacher had set just the 11th best time.

Tonio Liuzzi did a good job for Toro Rosso as he split the Red Bull Ferrari pair of David Coulthard and Christian Klien. Felipe Massa starts the race back in 15th position behind Rosberg. While Button enjoys his Pole, Rubens Barrichello must be wondering quite why it is all going wrong, so fast, for him at Honda. The Brazilian was eliminated from the first phase of qualifying and starts 16th. Barrichello was however badly held up by the erratic and not so rapid Yuji Ide, but that is perhaps the risk you take if you bank on one lap to see you through the first phase of qualifying. Barrichello’s body language as he stepped out of the car summed it up... He is certainly not having fun. Christijan Albers and Tiago Monteiro start 17th and 20th for MF1 Toyota with Scott Speed and the unfortunate Villeneuve separating the two while Takuma Sato starts 21st in his Super Aguri Honda. Yuji Ide spun once, went off track twice, baulked Barrichello and was nearly four seconds a lap off the pace of his team-mate. Unsurprisingly he starts last. The top Michelin teams have dominated qualifying in Melbourne and now it seems the battle for the win will be between those in the top five.


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