There were no surprises under the artificial lighting at the Yas Marina circuit, during qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The two 150º Italias will line up on the grid tomorrow afternoon on the third row, with Fernando Alonso fifth and Felipe Massa sixth: ahead of them it's the usual suspects, namely Red Bull and McLaren. Even the way the three parts of the session panned out did not throw up any special excitement or surprises. Fernando did a run on the Mediums in Q1, one on Softs in Q2 and two more on the Soft tyres in Q3. Felipe used the same number of sets of tyres, but did one lap on the Softs right from Q1 in case of any threat coming towards the end: the Brazilian then used the same set of Softs in Q2 and the two remaining ones in Q3.
Stefano Domenicali: We weren't expecting any surprises and we did not get any. We know what is our potential in qualifying and, in order to get onto the front two rows, something special must happen: in India that was the case, but not here, so our positions are relatively easy to understand. Just to make it clear, it's not a case of being pleased with this result in absolute terms, but neither should we be trying to fool our fans by claiming to be able to fight for the win. Tomorrow, we have every chance of fighting for a place on the podium: it won't be easy, but neither will it be impossible. In a track where, as we are only too aware, overtaking has never been easy, it will be interesting to see how effective will be the two zones where we can activate the moveable rear wing. Strategy, the work done by the drivers and the team, tyre behaviour and reliability: the usual parameters will once again hold the key.
Fernando Alonso: We are more or less where we expected to be going into the session. It's not because this is the eighth time out of eighteen qualifying sessions that I have ended up fifth. It's that, all year long, with a few rare exceptions, McLaren and Red Bull are stronger than us on Saturday, while on Sunday the situation is usually different, with the gaps between us being much closer. We know we can fight for the podium, but to succeed, we will have to do everything perfectly, beginning with the start and our strategy. In Q3, I thought of doing just one run, but then the first one was not perfect and we preferred to try everything right to the end. I don't think it would have made such a difference having a new set of tyres tomorrow, also because the degradation does not seem that high. Maybe the best time could have come on the second or third flying lap, but going down that route would have compromised our strategy, as we would have to start on tyres that were more worn than those of our rivals. I will start from the clean side of the track and hope to make up some places: the first lap is a good window of opportunity. The front wing? Mine worked well all weekend, but the team decided to move back with Felipe. In one sense it's positive, because we will have an even greater amount of data to compare in order to get a good understanding of this new component. Tomorrow it will be interesting to see how the tyres will behave from the start to the finish of the race, as the temperature drops.
Felipe Massa: To be honest, I hoped for more from this qualifying. I struggled more than expected to get the best out of the tyres on the first flying lap: maybe it would have been worth trying a longer run, with two attempts. As expected, today McLaren and Red Bull showed they have the edge over us. In the end, we are in the grid positions we can expect in this final part of the season. Sure, having to use the old type of front wing cost me something in terms of performance: in India, when we compared the two versions, I immediately felt the new one was an improvement, giving more grip and better stability under braking. Having said that, I don't think I could have got a place on the two front rows. Tomorrow we will have to see what we can do. Certainly the DRS will help with overtaking, but we have seen on other occasions, even with the moveable rear wing, that it is not a foregone conclusion.
Pat Fry: We can be neither surprised nor disappointed with this result, because we are where logic says we should be. Looking carefully at the times, sector by sector, one can see that Fernando was at the level of the fastest in the first two, but paid a penalty in the third, where there are more low speed corners and where traction is more important. In fact, that's not surprising either, as we know this is our Achilles Heel. Tomorrow, we can expect a pretty standard race in terms of how it evolves strategically. For the first pit stop, it will be important to find the right moment to stop out of traffic. The tyres are working well, even if we had a few problems in getting them immediately up to temperature, especially with the Mediums. As for the choices relating to the front wing, with Felipe we decided to use the old type, because despite the efforts we have made these past weeks, we have still not resolved some problems relating to the behaviour of this new part, which furthermore, seem to be contagious… We will continue to work on it, including during the three days of testing at this track next week.
Check out our Abu Dhabi qualifying gallery, here.