The Honda Racing F1 Team's Jenson Button will line up on the sixth row of the grid for tomorrow's inaugural Singapore Grand Prix after an improved qualifying performance compared with recent races put him in 12th place. However, there were mixed fortunes for the team as Rubens Barrichello fell foul of traffic on both his runs despite clearly demonstrating the pace for a place in Q2.
The session got underway at 2200hrs local time and both Honda drivers took to the track after five minutes of Q1. Rubens was the faster of the two drivers initially, setting a best lap of 1:46.583s, but he was forced to abort both of his subsequent runs. He was held up by Heidfeld on his second run and his final run was compromised by Alonso's spin, leaving his best time only quick enough for 18th position.
Jenson's second lap in Q1 was 1.1s faster than his first effort and he eased his way into Q2, where he continued to chip away at his lap times. His first run in Q2 was 1:45.535s and he improved to a 1:45.133s in the dying moments of the session to set his fastest lap of the weekend and achieve his best grid slot since the Hungarian Grand Prix.
A strong qualifying session on the new Singapore street circuit today. You must be pleased?
Jenson Button: "I'm pretty happy with our qualifying performance today and it is certainly a big improvement on the last few races. My final lap was compromised with too much understeer and very low grip in the first sector, but it was reasonable and it's nice to have the pace to compete in Q2 again. We got to grips with the circuit pretty quickly at the start of the weekend, which has provided a good foundation for qualifying today and our race preparation for tomorrow."
Tell us about the problems you encountered in qualifying today?
Rubens Barrichello: "Unfortunately qualifying did not work out for us today with traffic costing me an improved grid position. On my second run I was stuck behind Heidfeld, which compromised my lap, and then on the last run Alonso spun ahead of me and there was a yellow flag which meant I was unable to improve in the last sector. It's a shame because I would have improved my qualifying performance."
There are clear signs that the team is more competitive here this weekend. Why is that?
Steve Clark, Head of Race & Test Engineering: "Singapore is a maximum downforce circuit, on which the RA108 is certainly more competitive. Getting the set-up right has been a challenge but we made some improvements overnight and we have seen the benefit of that today with Jenson, who had a strong qualifying session and was certainly in contention for the top ten today. The weekend has been more frustrating for Rubens, who was unlucky today when traffic compromised both his runs in Q1 because he certainly had the pace to progress to Q2."
What are you expecting from the race tomorrow?
SC: "Tomorrow's race is going to be very interesting indeed. This is much more of a street circuit, which will pose some real challenges in race conditions. The unusually bumpy nature of the track, coupled with the potential for overheating brakes could easily cause problems and we could expect incidents which might force a safety car situation. The race is also going to be a big challenge for the drivers as 61 laps in these conditions will be hard on their concentration. We must stay focused and be ready to make the most of any opportunity. Above all, both our team and our drivers are very excited about tomorrow's very first night race here in Singapore."