Schumacher has to raise the bar

San Marino GP: Ferrari show improvement but Raikkonen and Alonso set the pace

The timesheets here had an all too familiar look to them for much of yesterday's preliminary qualifying session for today's San Marino Grand Prix here. Michael Schumacher and Ferrari were fastest, and everyone else was scrabbling to beat them.

Schumacher had been fastest in the morning's first session, but was pushed down in the second by Jenson Button, whose BAR-Honda has improved dramatically since Bahrain. Neither of them have had great starts to a season that has seen Fernando Alonso and Renault stamp their authority. Both are determined to regain ground before it is too late.

But while there has been almost an air of desperation chez Ferrari of late, BAR were calmly optimistic over dinner on Friday night, albeit fully aware of the need to deliver here. So when Schumacher went very fast early in qualifying - as he retired in Bahrain he was obliged to go out fifth here when the track was dirty and therefore not at its peak - and lapped in 1min 20.260sec, it was a surprise when Button, seventh out, failed to go quicker. He had, after all, been three-tenths of a second faster just a few hours earlier, but now his 1:20.464 rated as a disappointment. More disappointment followed later in the session when Mark Webber banged his Williams-BMW round in 1:20.442 before Kimi Raikkonen went fastest with 1:19.886 and Alonso missed out on the best time by a mere 0.003sec after taking his Renault round in 1:19.889.

"I am reasonably happy considering the position we started in for qualifying," Button, who finished fifth fastest, conceded. But the same thing applied to the third-placed Schumacher. If BAR turned a corner in testing in the weeks after Bahrain, then so, too, have Ferrari and their tyre supplier, Bridgestone.

"My lap was going really well until the last sector, when I had too much understeer. At least it has shown that we have made some big improvements and are on the pace," Button said. "It would have been nice to be on pole here again, but if we are in the top five tomorrow I will be very happy because I think the car is strong enough for us to make the best of every opportunity."

Schumacher admitted he, too, was relatively happy, "given that, if we have slightly a weak spot, it is in the one-lap performance. I think we can be in the fight for the win. It will be tight and tough, but the opportunity is there."

While Schumacher and Button prepare to re-enact their battle here last year, the danger men are Raikkonen and Alonso. With only 1.113sec covering the first 12 cars, there are going to be grid place changes as drivers qualify again with race fuel loads.

Behind the leading quintet, Jarno Trulli was sixth for Toyota yesterday, ahead of Sauber-Petronas' Felipe Massa, Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren-Mercedes stand-in, Alexander Wurz, Webber's team-mate Nick Heidfeld and Button's partner, Takuma Sato. Massa will drop 10 places wherever he qualifies because Sauber had to change his engine on Friday night.

Joining the bouncy little Brazilian in race-day purgatory will be the Melbourne winner, Giancarlo Fisichella, who also started qualifying early after retiring in Bahrain, then compounded that with a rare error. The fact that a smooth old hand like Fisichella can slip up like that underlined the job the rookie Tonio Liuzzi did to lap only two-tenths shy of his Red Bull team leader, David Coulthard, even though Liuzzi was the first man out and the Scot ran at a time when the track conditions were significantly better. Everyone will all fight even for a one-place improvement, for track position is crucial here.

Imola is another of those older tracks where overtaking is very, very difficult unless the guy in front makes an error. "In the old days, an awful lot of overtaking moves came when the driver in front missed a gear but did not own up to doing that," mused the Williams engineer Frank Dernie. "Now, of course, the semi-automatic gearboxes have made mistakes like that a thing of the past, and that's one reason why we don't see so much passing these days."

Translated from his verbal Morse code, Raikkonen said he felt the McLaren was better suited to Imola than any of the previous tracks this year, and clearly expects to stay close to the front. Given the race pace McLaren have demonstrated elsewhere, he will be a strong contender. And so, of course, will Alonso. He is far too experienced to be concerned about the tiny deficit to the Finn. "Historically this has been quite a tough track for our team so it is a nice surprise not only to be competitive, but fighting for pole position."

A third consecutive victory for the Spaniard is a definite possibility, but not if Raikkonen, Schumacher and Button have a say.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
voicesBryony Beynon: This is something every woman can relate to
Arts and Entertainment

Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
Life and Style
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is reported to be in final negotiations to play Doctor Strange for Marvel although the casting has not yet been confirmed
Arts and Entertainment
Alloysious Massaquoi, 'G' Hastings and Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers are the surprise winners of this year's Mercury Music Prize
musicThe surprise winners of the Mercury Prize – and a very brief acceptance speech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
Life and Style

World Beard and Moustache Championships held last week

Arts and Entertainment
Copycat culture: the Chateau Zhang Laffitte in China, top, and the building which inspired it, in Paris, bottom
architectureReplicas of Western landmarks are springing up in unlikely places
Rolando Aarons watches as his effort finds the corner of the Manchester City goal to give Newcastle the lead
footballManchester City 0 Newcastle 2: Holders crash out on home turf
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain