It was nearly a very good day for F1’s Brits during qualifying for the Turkish Grand Prix – but not quite.
Lewis Hamilton had pole snatched from him at the last moment by Felipe Massa, Anthony Davidson was similarly deprived of his first venture into the top-10 shoot-out by a late Jarno Trulli effort, and Jenson Button reached the dizzy heights (for Honda) of 15th before an engine failure sent him sliding to the back of the grid.
Only David Coulthard had a comparatively uneventful day, problems with drag holding back both Red Bulls and stranding them in 12th (Mark Webber) and 13th (Coulthard) positions when they’d hoped to be safely in the top 10.
With recent events in Hungary firmly in mind, McLaren took advantage of the modern pitlane at Istanbul Park to give Hamilton and Fernando Alonso completely separate pit boxes.
The decision may have prevented clashes between the drivers, but for most of qualifying it didn’t help Hamilton’s performance much as he struggled during the first two sessions.
At the post-qualifying press conference he said: “Going into qualifying, I knew we had the pace – throughout testing we seemed to be either with Ferrari or slightly faster, so I was quite confident.
“Q1 and Q2 were a bit of a surprise to me. The car didn’t feel great and I couldn’t really get a clean, smooth lap, and I was fourth, I think, for both of them. Going into the two qualifying laps that I had in Q3, the first one was not too bad, I knew where I lost time and I knew that I could improve on it but I didn’t think it would be half a second, six tenths.
“But going into the last lap, I really put everything together and I knew it was a good lap. I lost a bit of time at the last corner, but I think it’s the same for everyone. It’s a very, very tricky corner, but I’m very, very happy – second, I can’t complain.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who qualified third, said he thought third was preferable to second as the clean side of the circuit has in the past offered an advantage in Turkey. Fernando Alonso, however, will be watching all that going on ahead of him as he could only manage fourth fastest.
Hamilton admitted he was glad to have qualified ahead of his teammate: “It is obviously a positive. Going into qualifying I knew that Fernando had been improving and I seemed to lack the pace, but I am very relieved that I was able to pull out the time on my last lap and qualify ahead of him.
“Obviously tomorrow is another day and I will just have to try to get as many points as possible and finish ahead of him. But it will be good for both of us to finish ahead of the Ferraris.”
For Super Aguri, Anthony Davidson had a lap to remember – comfortably reaching the second qualifying session and being unlucky to miss out on a chance to play with the big boys in Q3.
He said: “The day started off well. After free practice this morning we were looking pretty strong to challenge for Q2 in qualifying, and we got through reasonably easily.
“Before the session I was a bit skeptical as to whether we could get through or not, but the guys worked hard and everyone did a great job and we did it in the end, even challenging for Q3.
“It was a really good day, and I am going to remember that lap for a very long time.”
Super Aguri sporting director Graham Taylor was pleased with Davidson’s performance: “It was a very strong performance from Anthony.
“He showed on his second run in Q1 the capability of the car. We knew that we could tweak it a little bit more, and maybe there was a bit more speed, and then in Q2 he exploited everything that the car has got.
“It is so very, very tight in the midfield and you have to get everything right to take advantage, as Anthony and the team proved today.”
The parent Honda team saw forward progress compared with their recent dire run of form, with both cars coming within spitting distance of the top 10. Button’s day took a turn for the worse with an engine failure at the very end of the session – the penalty for changing it will send him to the back of the grid.
He said: “The first three runs in qualifying went well. On the last run I tried to push the car a bit more but I just ended up with a big snap of oversteer and lost quite a bit of time.
“That’s where we’re at though. You either drive the car round and do OK or try to push and then you’re on a knife-edge. That’s what we’re dealing with I’m afraid. We’ll have to see what we can do in the race.”
Honda engineering director Jacky Eeckelaert added: “Jenson was pushing hard but on the last run lost some time at turn seven and ended the session just behind his team-mate.
“Unfortunately, as he came into the pits, his engine started to lose power and we will now have to change it for tomorrow’s race.”
Red Bull team bosses felt both their drivers made slight mistakes in qualifying that prevented the full potential of the cars from showing through, but both Webber and Coulthard felt the cars themselves were the problem.
Coulthard said: “The balance of the car is teetering on the edge between a little bit of understeer and a little bit of oversteer, so I can’t really say there’s a fundamental problem with the balance.
“That was as quickly as I could drive each corner. Maybe I could have gone one or two tenths quicker by doing a tidier lap, but no more than that. We really need more downforce or less drag.”