McLaren won the battle on the track yesterday, crushing Ferrari as Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton proved uncatchable. But Ferrari struck back even as the hour-long session was taking place. Behind the scenes, the public prosecutor of Modena, Giuseppe Tibis, wrote and issued legal notifications of investigation on McLaren personnel: Ron Dennis (chairman), Martin Whitmarsh (managing director, McLaren Group), Jonathan Neale (managing director, McLaren Racing), Paddy Lowe (technical director) and Rob Taylor (designer), plus one apiece for the disgraced Mike Coughlan (chief designer) and sacked Nigel Stepney (Ferrari's former head of performance development).
An avviso di garanzia is a legal notification that someone is under investigation in a criminal procedure, and Tibis's cite three points: possession of industrial secrets, sporting fraud and sabotage. Yet immediately after qualifying, Dennis denied that any such notifications had been served. "Nothing has happened yet," he said. "If it happens, it happens."
Soon afterwards Dennis's business partner, Mansour Ojjeh, rushed down to the neighbouring Ferrari headquarters for a conference with their company president, Luca di Montezemolo,and president, Jean Todt. Later, the latter pair were joined by powerbroker Bernie Ecclestone. The power games prior to Thursday's World Council hearinghad begun.
The atmosphere between the two teams this weekend has been an unsavoury reminder that their increasingly acrimonious battle is concerned far more with off-track politics than on-track action, where the competition is supposed to take place.
Coming into this race McLaren were quietly confident, even though Ferrari traditionally always go well on their hallowed home turf. The silver arrows were quick in a test here the previous week, and despite Felipe Massa's hope that Ferrari might somehow turn the tide in the intervening days, that form carried over virtually throughout practice and qualifying.
Ferrari's cause was not helped when Kimi Raikkonen shunted his Ferrari very heavily on the approach to the Ascari corner yesterday morning. The Finn hit a bump and the F2007 was flicked dramatically into the outer wall before crashing head-on into the tyre wall right up to its cockpit. It looked the nastiestsort of accident, not unlike Hamilton's in Germany, but the Finn calmly extricated himself from the cockpit, stepped over the tyre wall, and refused medical help. He then drove the spare car (fitted with the engine from his damaged race car to avoid a 10-grid place penalty) to fifth place in qualifying.
Yesterday afternoon the McLarens proved unstoppable. Hamilton's final lap of 1min 22.034sec came close to Alonso's previous best of 1:21.997, but there was no cigar, and the disappointment showed in his face in an era of F1 when qualifying so often determines the race order, since overtaking is allbut impossible.
"It was quite a good battle we had going on there," he said, after exchanging handshake congratulations with Alonso. "It was a good run. My first timed lap was not great but on the last one I edged a bit out of the car, though I wasn't 100 per cent happy with the balance. But a one-two for the team shows how hard everyone, especially those back at the factory, have been working. We have put our heads together and for the fifth time this year have the front row locked out. I hope we maintain that tomorrow."
Alonso was clearly delighted with his first pole position since Monaco. "Somehow I always had problems in Q3 on the important laps with new tyres, when I couldn't quite go fast enough," said. "So, finally, pole. We have been very quick all weekend and also in the test, and thanks to a good job from the team the car is extremely quick here. We took our opportunity and showed our pace and hopefully tomorrow we will do the real job andfinish ahead of everybody."
Massa, third overall ahead of BMW Sauber pilot Nick Heidfeld, was philosophical. "We stopped thinking we might be on top the moment we saw McLaren were so quick," he admitted. "But it's good to be P3, and important to do a good start. We can have a very competitive car in the race, but how quick we will be we will have to see; McLaren were very quick today."
With a pit stop taking 25 seconds, teams usually opt for a single stop here. "Our strategy is quite clear here, no mysteries," Hamilton agreed. "My car will be fine for the long runs.
"We are both on the front row, which is the main thing. We are both battling for the world championship, so a one-two for McLaren would be great tomorrow. But we have to be sensible; obviously we can race, but we need to bring as many points home for the team as we can."
Which, as usual in F1, means that everything could depend on the first corner, the tricky chicane. Neither of the McLaren drivers are expecting any team orders, but Hamilton is notunder any illusions about how difficult overtaking can be here.
"There are not that many corners here so there is not a lot of room for error. As you know, Fernando and all of the top drivers rarely make mistakes, so it will be extremely difficult. We have to wait and see how we get into the first corner tomorrow."
1 F Alonso (Sp) McLaren 1min 21.997sec
2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:22.034
3 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1:22.549
4 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:23.174
5 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:23.183
6 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:23.446
7 H Kovalainen (Fin) Renault 1:24.102
8 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:24.382
9 J Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:24.555
10 J Button (GB) Honda 1:25.165
11 M Webber (Aus) RedBull-Renault 1:23.166
12 R Barrichello (Bra) Honda 1:23.176
13 A Wurz (Aut) Williams-Toyota 1:23.209
14 A Davidson (GB) Super Aguri-Honda 1:23.274
15 G Fischella (Ita) Renault 1:23.325
16 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:23.351
17 T Sato (Jap) Super Aguri-Honda 1:23.749
18 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:23.787
19 V Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:23.886
20 D Coulthard (GB) RedBull-Renault 1:24.019
21 A Sutil (Ger) Spyker-Ferrari 1:24.699
22 S Yamamoto (Jap) Spyker-Ferrari 1:25.084
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