Formula one, 2001 season United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis: Practice and Qualifying: the jpoc report

The teams all arrived safely in the US having negotiated their cars through the new stringent security checks. While many people were unsettled by September's events, everyone was determined that things should continue. Mika Hakkinen, who was leaving F1 at the end of the year, and Michael Schumacher who had long since wrapped up the world championship, had perhaps the greatest reasons for not attending but they were both in Indianapolis determined to compete.

Michael Schumacher got cracking with the competeing right from the off. He was fastest in the first session followed by Coulthard and new father Rubens Barrichello. Mika Hakkinen was a long way back in the first session as a result of a failure in his engine's pneumatic valve gear. This led to an engine change which was completed in forty minutes and allowed the Finn to complete just four flying laps in the first session.

Fisichella, fourth, and Jenson Button both managed to get into the top ten in the first session but that was the highlight of their Friday. Behind Fisichella, the two Saubers rounded out the top six while the Williams of Montoya and Ralf Schumacher languished in 12th and 15th. Jaques Villeneuve was well back in 21st place complaining of problems with his power steering system.

Hakkinen got it all together in the second session and was fastest from Michael Schumacher, Barrichello, Coulthard, Irvine and Heidfeld. The McLaren and Ferrari drivers had few problems in the second session which was a stark contrast to Williams who just seemed unable to get their car to work properly on the clean track surface. All that they could do was to wait and hope that the extra rubber laid down onto the track would make things better for them on Friday.

Profiting from the Williams troubles were the Jaguars. Underlying that the problem with the Williams were not down to the Michelin tyres, Irvine and de la Rosa lined up their similarly shod Jaguars in fifth and eighth. Splitting the green cars were Heidfeld and Frentzen who was putting in yet another fine performance in the Prost.

Williams were back on Saturday morning with Ralf and Juan Pablo lining up second and sixth. Michael Schumacher was the fastest and the gap to his brother was greater than the gap between the two Williams drivers. For the first time in the weekend, the top six was made up of the usual suspects. Barrichello, Hakkinen and then Coulthard splitting the Williams pair.

Jaguar on the other hand fared less well dropping right out of the top ten and back into 15th and 16 places. They were replaced in the top ten by Benetton with Button in seventh less than two tenths behind Montoya.

Michael Schumacher suffered from oil pump failure in the second session. He failed to improve on his earlier time and the Ferrari mechanics set about performing an engine swap in his race chassis. Still, nobody else could come within a quarter of a second of his first session time and so he appeared to be in a very strong position. Indeed, Mika Hakkinen was the only one of the top six from the first session to have improved his time. Heidfeld, Fisichella and Raikkonen all improved their times to move into 3rd, 7th and 10th places while Trulli managed to improve his time and still drop out of the top ten.

The qualifying hour started with the customary sight of a Minardi chugging around the circuit. Alex Yoong did a tidy job to put a lap in the bag. It was slower than his best time in the morning but, although he was later to improve, this first lap was good enough to get under the eventual 107% barrier and for a Minardi, that is the prine goal.

The most notable event in the early minutes was the time posted by the second Minardi of Fernando Alonso. He set a time of 1m14.657 which was faster than Jacques Villeneuve and heralded a rather better grid slot that normal for a Minardi.

Interest soon switched to the first of the expected front runners when Juan Pablo Montoya emerged after 20 minutes and as expected set the fastest time with 1m12.679. Nobody else was under 1m13 at that point but as he completed his lap, a McLaren train crossed the start finish line. Mika Hakkinen followed David Coulthard round the track. The reason for running two cars so close together was to help the second car to get a tow in the slipstream down the long fast straight.

Coulthard was less than five hundredths slower than Montoya but, moments after he crossed the line, Hakkinen beat him and Montoya to post the fastest time so far in the session. Ralf Schumacher came out for his first run as the McLarens were on their in laps. He was slower than his team mate and the McLarens with Trulli, Heidfeld, Raikkonen and Fisichella filling out the top eight.

Finally, it was Ferrari's turn and, echoing the McLarens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher came out in close formation. Rubens was fastest at both intermediates and he was the first driver below 1m12.5. Michael was further back and his first lap was good for just 3rd place.

Soon after the Ferraris were back in their garage, McLaren repeated the formation qualifying run. This time, Hakkinen was in front and he aborted his lap and returned to the pits while Coulthard completed his lap to push Michael Schumacher down a place and go third fastest. The champion lost another place a moment later when Nick Heidfeld went fourth fastest. If he was feeling happy, another midfield runner was far from pleased. On his second run, Jacques Villeneuve improved his time but not his grid slot and he was still back in 20th place.

Just after the half hour mark, Ralf Schumacher came out for his second run and this time, he did the business and went fastest with a lap of 1m12.292. As he was doing that, the two Ferraris came out together for their second run. Michael Schumacher led his team mate round the track and this time, he did the business. He was the first driver to get below 1m12 and with Barrichello failing to improve, he was on provisional pole.

Montoya came out for his second run but was still back in fourth place and then the two McLarens came out for the third go. Mika Hakkinen lead David Coulthard round that track and, while both drivers improved their times, Mika was the happy man as he had beaten Michael Schumacher by just two thousandths of a second. Coulthard was back in fifth spot with a time of exactly one minute, twelve and a half seconds.

With the hour drawing to a close, Barrichello came out for his third run. He failed to improve his time and thus remained in fourth place just behind Ralf Schumacher who mananged to improve his time on his third run though he could not get past Mika Hakkinen's mark.

Ralf's brother had no trouble dealing with the Finn though as his third run was faster again and was enough for the eventual pole. Soon after that, Tomas Enge put his Prost into the tyres and that disrupted many people's runs as the seconds drained away. It was a hard impact but he was quickly out of the car and appeared unhurt.

Battle was rejoined with just two minutes left to run. McLaren and Williams sent both of their drivers out but to little avail. Motoya did post his best time which in the end was good for third. Hakkinen failed to improve on his time with a 1m12.309 but that turned out to be an important lap.

With his pole position looking safe, Michael Schumacher could afford to sit out the final runs as his rivals hammered around the track to no avail. In the press conference, he said that he stayed in the garage simply because he thought that it was not possible for him to go any faster.

That left Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen on the provicional front row but it was not to stay that way. In the race morning warm up, a minor infraction in the pitlane led the stewards to cancel Hakkinen's fastest qualifying time.

That bumped Hakkinen down to fourth behind the two Williams. Barrichello was next followed by Nick Heidfeld who equalled his best qualifying spot of the year. That forced Coulthard out of the top six and the top ten was completed by Trulli and Alesi in the two Jordans and Jenson Button's Benetton. The latter was very pleased with his first top ten grid spot of the year. Fisichella was two places back in the second Benetton. He was not helped by the failure of his car's airbox late in the session. That left a large hole in the bodywork and debris on the main straight.

Further back down the grid, the main point of interest was the ninth row. In seventeenth position was Fernando Alonso. That was a good position for a Minardi and, despite an engine problem which led him to switch to the spare car, he described the session as perfect. Lining up alongside him was Jacques Villeneuve. Despite his success on the oval circuit, the Indy F1 layout was not being kind to him. He complained of low speed on the straight and no grip in the corners and descibed the car as undrivable. He was almost a second back on his team mate Olivier Panis.


The whole 2001 season All the races and the behind the scenes games
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Who drives what?
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Which engine goes where?
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Business and politics
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Teams and personnel
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Circuit news
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Setting the scene
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 The starting grid
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Race report
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Results
United States GP at Indianapolis September 30th 2001 Championship standings after the race
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