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Italian Grand Prix Qualifying

Kimi Raikkonen continues to be full of surprises, grabbing pole position at Monza when we least expected it. The car may have been a bit light on fuel (and Pedro de la Rosa’s correspondingly heavy – he finished in eighth position), but it takes real talent to beat Ferrari and Schumacher on this circuit. If Kimi is to drive for the Italian team next year, they will not be too unhappy that he beat their man Michael into second on the grid.

Kimi

Kimi Raikkonen

The other talking point will be the pace of the BMW Saubers, with Nick Heidfeld taking third and Robert Kubica seventh. At last they have sustained their practice speed into qualifying. Now it remains to be seen whether they can continue this improvement into the race itself. With a bit of luck, we might see another new face on the top step of the podium on Sunday. If Button could do it in Hungary, why should not Heidfeld in Italy?

Fernando Alonso’s times were compromised by the puncture and subsequent tire disintegration he suffered early in Q3. Aerodynamic parts of the bodywork were knocked off by the flailing rubber and he did very well to get the maimed car into fifth position. Alonso will still be a factor in the race, in spite of Michael and Felipe Massa (fourth) being ahead of him on the grid.

The Hondas continued to look good, if a little lower down the order than in Turkey. Jenson Button grabbed sixth and Barrichello ninth. Lately they have produced solid and reliable race performances (still likely since they opted not to use the new-spec engines that have a tendency to blow up rather quickly) and they should be in there with a shout at the end.

The top ten was completed by Giancarlo Fisichella, almost certainly hampered by a heavy fuel load. He too should move into the frame as the race progresses. Otherwise, it was much as expected but the Toyotas were unusually slow. It seems the car does not like high speed circuits.

Ferrari look very strong for a race win here, as usual, but it would be nice to think that Kimi, Alonso and the BMW Saubers are able to mix it with them tomorrow. Ever the romantic, I quite fancy Heidfeld for this one but my head tells me it will be Schumacher.

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Another Option for Michael Schumacher

As Friday practice gets underway with Sebastian Vettel heading the time sheets for Sauber BMW in the first session at Monza, Michael Schumacher continues to toy with the press when asked about his possible retirement. Always the master of stating the obvious, Michael speculated that, in the event of his retiring, “I suppose I would be unemployed.”

Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher

Or would he? According to Sport-Informations-Dienst, Michael has been invited to remain with Ferrari in a managerial role after retiring from driving. Now that makes a lot of sense.

Michael has been an important factor in Ferrari’s success and was instrumental, with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn, in building a previously unheard-of efficiency and determination into the team. It is quite clear that he has highly-developed organizational skills and is able to cut through petty rivalries that would otherwise weaken a team. Add to these skills his integration with and knowledge of Ferrari and he becomes the perfect understudy for Jean Todt, should he be thinking of retirement himself.

It would not be the first time that a driver has transferred to the managerial side after retirement. Gerhard Berger and Niki Lauda spring to mind instantly and Jackie Stewart and Alain Prost both had a go. Looking at Schumacher’s record in pulling a team together and making it work for him, one would have to say that he shows more potential than any of these for such a position.

Of course, it is only a rumor and cannot be confirmed until after the race on Sunday. But it is such an obvious choice for the German that I am amazed it hasn’t been suggested before. You can bet that it is one of the options that Michael has been considering over the last few weeks, even if he has decided against it.

Did I say “decided”? Oh yes, it’s been clear for a while that Michael has made his decision and is merely awaiting the chosen time to make an announcement.

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Testing at Monza

The teams have finished testing at Monza and everyone now looks forward to the race next weekend. Although times from test runs are always misleading, there are a few inferences that we can gather from the latest batch.

Predictably, Ferrari set the quickest time although, for a change, it was Felipe Massa who was fastest this time and Michael Schumacher was third. We shouldn’t set too much store by this but it does at least show that Massa is continuing his run of form.

Second up was Alonso, allowing some hope that the Renaults might be close enough to the Ferraris to give them a run for their money in the race. This is Monza, however, and Ferrari have traditionally done well there, no doubt given extra impetus by the combined wishes of the thousands of tifosi watching the race. I will be very surprised if the Italian team do not win their home Grand Prix.

Robert Kubica is settling in well as a race driver for BMW Sauber, setting fastest lap on the first test day and then crashing the car on the second. The man is a star in the making.

Williams gave themselves some hope by being well up the time sheets in fourth and seventh, while Klien continued his late renaissance to end up fifth. Surely this must make Red Bull wonder whether they made the right decision in taking him out of the team for 2007.

Monza

The first chicane at Monza

One should not read too much into the times, as I said, but they do help pass the days until the race arrives. And what a race it is; Monza is one of the old circuits and is still capable of showing F1 at its best. Those long straights allow the cars to reach prodigious speeds, there are some very fast and demanding bends, the occasional chicane inserted in modern times, and then there is the Parabolica to slingshot the cars back into the start/finish straight. Definitely one of the races not to be missed.

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