The Honda Racing F1 Team will start tomorrow's Monaco Grand Prix from the middle of the grid after a frustrating qualifying session in which both of its drivers were forced to abort their fastest laps in Q2. Jenson Button will start the 78-lap race from 12th place and Rubens Barrichello from 15th.
Until the dying moments of Q2 it had been an encouraging day for the team. Jenson was at times the fastest driver on the track following a mid-session shower during final practice this morning, and both of the team's RA108s were competitive at the start of qualifying.
Both drivers sailed through Q1 and embarked on Q2 by setting times in the low 1:16s, before waiting in the pits for the next nine minutes in the hope of catching the track in peak condition. It looked as if their strategy was going to pay off when they each set personal bests in sector one, but they had to abort their laps when Coulthard crashed at the exit of the tunnel.
While qualifying remained dry throughout, the weather forecast for tomorrow is wet and should the rain materialise, it will be the first wet race in the Principality since 1997, when Rubens Barrichello finished second.
How was your qualifying session today?
Jenson Button: "We spent the session working on the balance, trying to remove understeer from the car in the high-speed corners, which we achieved and the balance was improving. On my last run, the car felt good and I gained almost two-tenths in the first sector on my previous best time, then in the second sector Coulthard had his incident which unfortunately meant I couldn't improve my time because of the yellow flags."
What was the potential for the car today?
JB: "The car was well set-up for my final run in Q2 and the last sector is where we would have improved further, as we had a better front-end for the high-speed corners. Sadly the yellow flags prevented us from realising our full potential. We're not in the top ten and it's disappointing. That's Monaco for you and what is important is that we know the car was quick enough to have improved."
It will be a tough race starting from the eighth row of the grid tomorrow. Talk us through your qualifying session.
Rubens Barrichello: "It was certainly a disappointing second session for us. Unfortunately I didn't have a good first run because of traffic and then my second outing was interrupted by the yellow flags. It's a shame as the car was certainly competitive enough to get into Q3. However there is no place for 'if only' in Formula One and we are down in 15th, so it will be a tough race from there."
How did your qualifying session pan out compared to your expectations?
Steve Clark, Head of Race & Test Engineering: "Unfortunately it was 10 minutes shorter. Because of the wet morning session we elected to do an early run in Q1 on the prime tyre, then use the option for a single lap at the end. This worked well for us with both cars comfortably through to Q2. The second session was always going to be difficult for us as neither driver had a perfect balance on their first run. However changes to the front wing and tyre pressures had improved the car and they were both on a lap fast enough for the top ten when David Coulthard had his accident. We were running very late in the session in order to get the very best track conditions, so an incident at the last moment was a known risk which cost us dear on this occasion."
What are your predictions for tomorrow's race? Or is a potentially wet Monaco Grand Prix too tough to call?
SC: "A dry race tomorrow would be a very difficult and frustrating one for us. Both drivers are qualified below the potential of their cars and as we know overtaking here is pretty much impossible. If the race is wet then I think our chances of points are much higher. We have two very experienced drivers, both of whom are exceptional in the wet. Rubens has previously finished second here in an uncompetitive car and Jenson won his first race in the wet. Predicting a result in the wet is very difficult as there are so many scenarios that are possible, especially in changing conditions. A wet race here is likely to be full of incidents so if we can stay clear of them and get everything right then a good result is not out of the question."