The combination of the most famous team in Formula 1 and the sport’s most famous venue does not seem to be working out too well at the moment. This afternoon, Scuderia Ferrari only fielded one car in the qualifying session for tomorrow’s 78 lap race, that of Fernando Alonso.
Despite valiant efforts from the crew, Felipe Massa’s extensively damaged F138 could not be repaired in time, in between FP3 in which he slammed into the barriers and the 2 o’clock start for qualifying.
In theory, this means the Brazilian will start from the back of the grid on Sunday, although we must wait and see if the strategists opt to start him from pit lane instead, just as they did with Fernando in 2010 when it was the Spanish driver who played no part in qualifying after crashing in the morning on the streets of the Principality.
As predicted, it rained during qualifying, a light drizzle that eventually left a dry enough line for those who made the cut through from Q1 to run the second part of Q2 on the Super Soft slick Pirellis.
Fernando had no trouble with the first two acts of this afternoon’s performance and went on to set the sixth fastest time in Q3, which means he starts from the outside of Row 3. For the second successive race, Mercedes have got a stranglehold on the front row, with Nico Rosberg again on pole, as he was in Spain a fortnight ago, with Lewis Hamilton alongside him.
Here, where overtaking is so tough, the silver arrows will prove much harder to pass than was the case in previous races at more conventional tracks this year.
As for Felipe, he could only stand and watch as the mechanics worked ceaselessly to try and get his badly damaged car back into one piece, but there simply wasn’t enough time to effectively rebuild a car from scratch.
The slowest and longest race of the year will seem even longer than usual tomorrow, but the Brazilian is not the sort to give up hope and although saying that anything can happen in a Grand Prix is something of a cliché, at this venue it is also the truth.
In Fernando’s case, the Mercedes duo has again given his championship aspirations a bit of a helping hand, as it has kept the two men ahead of him in the classification, Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen off the front row, so that even if the grid order never changed in the race, it would prevent the German and the Finn getting the biggest points haul.
Vettel is third on the grid, with team-mate Mark Webber alongside him in fourth, with Raikkonen fifth next to the Spanish Ferrari man. The threat from the next row tomorrow in what is expected to be a dry 78 laps, comes from seventh placed Sergio Perez for McLaren and Adrian Sutil eighth for Force India.
The preferred strategy here is to stop just once, as every visit to pit lane can involve a risk of coming out behind slower traffic, but that could be a bit trickier with this year’s Pirellis, so we might see some variety tomorrow.