Formula one, 2001 season Italian Grand Prix at Monza: Practice and Qualifying: the jpoc report

The Monza race took place in the shadow of the terrorist attacks on the United States. While a few objected to this, the main attitude was that it was right to continue and to use the occasion to show respect and remembrance. Ferrari led the way in this. Their cars ran with no sponsors and black nose cones. It was an effective gesture.

The main talking point in Friday morning's first free practice session was Kimi Raikkonen. You could discuss his signing with McLaren or, if you would rather, you could discuss his dramatic accident at the first chicane. The chicane, newly reprofiled in 2000, often catches drivers out and while Raikkonen was the only driver to hit anything hard, he was far from being the only one to have problems there. His team mate also gave the mechanics some work as he found the scenery around the Lesmos to be rather harder than his car.

There was little surprise in seeing Michael Schumacher at the front of the field but there were some remarkable performaces in the session. Nick Heidfeld was a creditable fourth but the real man of the moment was Jenson Button who had a lot of folks wondering how he put a Benetton up into sixth place. He was just over half a second behind Michael Schumacher and rather more than that ahead of the younger Schumacher in the first of the two Williams.

The Williams duo were back where they and most observers expected for the second session. Ralf first, Jaun Pablo second. Pedro de la Rosa made it into fourth place and that meant that David Coulthard was the only one of the normal top six to be pushed out of that zone. Jenson Button was back in 13th two places behind his team mate but Eddie Irvine was a whole fifteen places back on his team mate. He had spun at the Ascari chicane after just a couple of laps so there was little that he could do.

Seat swappers Alesi and Frentzen both did well. Both made it into the top ten and Alesi was three places up on Jarno Trulli his better regarded team mate. The two new boys, Enge and Yoong ended the day at the back of the field sandwiching Jos Verstappen.

Saturday morning started with a damp track which was largely dry by the end of the session. Only 14 drivers actually bothered to complete a proper flying lap. Montoya was fastest and his team mate was slowest and really none of the times meant much.

Michael Schumacher was fastest in the last untimed session. Montoya was next up and Ralf was back in sixth but that did not tell the true story. The Williams drivers lapped for most of the session without actually pushing for fast times. It appeared that they were either working on race setup or perhaps scrubbing tyres for use in the race.

Neither Minardi managed to set a time as they battled with a series of mechanical maladies and they must have been worried about failing to beat the 107% time in the qualifying session.

The tiny Italian team fared even worse when the qualifying sesison finally began. As usual, they sent their drivers out early and indeed, as soon as the pit lane exit opened, Alonso headed off towards the first chicane. He was followed a few moments later by Alex Yoong his new team mate. Alonso completed his out lap and as he approached the first chicane on his timed lap, he could see Yoong's car ahead parked in the escape road. Alonso managed exactly one lap more than his team mate as he too coasted to a halt in the escape road just seconds into that first flying lap. Both cars had succumbed to the gearbox software bugs that had hit them in the morning and the two drivers had to jog back to the pits while the marshalls craned their cars over the barriers and dumped them on the grass for later recovery. Fortunately, the spare didn't have the new gearbox and software combo otherwise, the Minardi techs would presumably have been looking for a software patch on or something.

Ten minutes later, Tomas Enge went out for his first F1 qualifying run and Alonso headed out in the spare Minardi. He completed a flying lap just under a tenth slower than Enge and so at least one Minardi driver had a time in the bag though the car was putting out a worrying amount of smoke as it went round the circuit.

Just after the quarter hour mark, Bernoldi brought his Arrows out and his split times illustrated an interesting point that was to be repeated throughout the session. He was almost two tenths of a second down and the first timing point but three tenths up on Enge at the second. Throughout the session, most cars were either fast in the first section with the very tight chicane or fast in the second section for the long run out to the Lesmos and back.

By the 21 minute mark, just four cars had actually set times, Panis being the fastest but then Ralf Schumacher became the first of the big names to emerge from the pit lane and he set a time of 1m23.216. That was the second fastest lap of the weekend up to then but two minutes later his team mate beat it with a 1m22.715 lap. That was the first lap under 1m23 seconds and Williams were looking good indeed.

It was time for almost everyone to come out but nobody could mix it with the Williams men until Michael Schumacher emerged. First Hakkinen went third, then Coulthard went fourth fastest and Button went fifth. Raikkonen set a time faster than both McLarens to be third fastest and Frentzen beat Coulthard's time to go fifth. Heidfeld and then Fisichella both posted top six times and then it was the turn of the number one Ferrari.

Micahael Schumacher was a shade up on Montoya at the first intermediate, down at the second and then three hundredths up at the end of the lap to claim provisional pole. Just behind him, Jarno Trulli went fastest of all at the first intermediate timing point but dropped away on in the middle section to end up fourth fastest behind Schumacher and the two Williams.

Rubens Barrichello then came out but, on his flying lap, he took the pretty route across the grass and had to try and set his time on a second flying lap. By then Ralf had become the first of the front runners to make a second outing and while he was able to improve his time, he still had his brother and team mate ahead.

Coulthard, who had drifted back to fourteenth managed a fifth best time on his second run and so, with half the session run the top ten were Michael Schumacher, Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Trulli, Coulthard, Barrichello, Hakkinen, de la Rosa, Raikkonen and Fisichella. Both Minardis had made it under the 107% mark.

With less than 25 minutes left Montoya came out for his second run. A quarter of a second up on Michael Schumacher and he was back at the top of the timesheets. It was also good enough to put Alex Yoong outside the 107% mark. Moments later, Rubens Barrichello set a time that moved him up from seventh to third just three hundredths down on his team leader and after that point, very few drivers managed to improve their position. Even Michael Schumacher could do no more and shave a couple of hundredths off the gap to Montoya and the Colombian more than got those back on his third run when 1m22.216 put pole out of everyone's reach.

One of the few to gain a place was Rubens Barrichello who put in his best time of the session on his third run to pass Michael Schumacher for the second spot on the grid. Schumacher could do nothing about that. He improved his time on his own third run but was still almost a tenth behind Rubens.

Then, with just five minutes to run, Mika Hakkinen lost it in a big way out at the second Lesmo. The back snapped out of line with a suddeness that suggested a mechanical failure. Mika just seemed to be about to catch it when the rear twitched to and fro a couple of times before the car skittered over the gravel and into the barriers. It bounced back, losing two wheels in the process and then finally came to a halt some way down the track beyond the gravel trap.

Hakkinen was quickly up and out of the car but the session was red flagged and there was a delay of about fifteen minutes while his car and the associated debris was removed from the track.

There were just four minutes left to run and over half of the field lined up in the pit lane for one last go when the track was reopened but try as they might, nobody could do much about anything and Juan Pablo notched up another pole position and Rubens Barrichello managed that rare feat among Michael Schumacher's team mates of qualifying ahead of the great man.

De la Rosa and Button also out qualified their team mates and Frentzen was ahead of Alesi. The man really in the nose out of joint corner must have been Ralf Schumacher though. Of couirse, he would not be happy to be behind his team mate but to be behind both Ferraris when Montoya was on pole was about as bad as it could get.

Montoya's dominance could be judged by one simple statistic. He could have used his second, third or fourth timed lap for pole. It was masterful.

The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Tyre news
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Who drives what?
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Which engine goes where?
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Business and politics
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Teams and personnel
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Circuit news
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Setting the scene
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Prospects for the race
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September The starting grid
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Race report
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Results
Italian GP at Monza 16th of September Championship standings after the race
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