Kimi Raikkonen refused to apportion blame for the catastrophic error of judgement that saw him drop out of Q1 in qualifying for this weekend's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona – a race where this time last year, the Finn registered his last victory to-date in Formula 1.
A similar result has now been rendered all-but impossible in the 2009 edition, as what he succinctly described as 'a stupid mistake' saw the former world champion remain in his pit 'box in a tyre-saving exercise as the clock ticked down in the dying moments of Q1 – but then so too did his position on the timesheets, and late improvements from Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld were enough to push Raikkonen out of the frame.
It was, by all accounts, a disastrous outcome – and all the more so since the 29-year-old and team-mate Felipe Massa had thoroughly dominated the morning practice session in Ferrari's heavily revamped F60, with both proving to be nigh-on half a second clear of any of the opposition. As missed opportunities go, it was a fairly major one and, following a similar error that cost Massa dear in Malaysia last month, a somewhat worrying sign.
“We made a stupid mistake,” 17-time grand prix-winner Raikkonen confessed. “It's a real shame because the car was much better than the one we had in the previous races, and we had every chance of getting a good result. I didn't get any particularly good laps on my only run in Q1, but we thought my best time would be enough to make it to Q2 and so I stayed in the garage.
“There's no point in saying whose fault it was, because we can't do anything about it now. I certainly wasn't keen on doing another run as I was thinking of saving a set of new soft tyres for Q3, and the team reckoned we could make it. Tomorrow's race will be tough and we will try and make the best of the situation. The F60 has improved – maybe not yet to the level of the best, but we're definitely getting closer.”
That much was underlined by Massa's performance, with the FP3 pace-setter showing well in all three parts of qualifying – leading the way in Q1 and lapping fourth-quickest in Q2 – before annexing a second row grid slot, the 28-year-old's highest starting position of the season to-date. What's more, the 2008 world championship runner-up did so with a very healthy fuel load aboard his car – and he will be the only front-runner with the benefit of KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology at his disposal when the starting lights go out on Sunday...
“We demonstrated that the car has improved,” contended the São Paulo native, “and that it is much more competitive than at the other races. I am happy to be back at the front end in qualifying and the credit for that goes to everyone at the Scuderia
, who have worked day and night these past weeks to get so many new elements on-track so quickly. There is still a long way to go, but we are working in the right direction, which is a good sign for the future.
“From fourth on the grid, my aim is to fight for a podium finish. At the start, KERS could be very handy in helping me make up some places and then we know we can count on running a good race pace. I feel more comfortable at the wheel; the car is more stable and doesn't slide so much everywhere as it did in the past.”
The outcome – if ultimately frustrating on one side of the garage – was certainly an indication that the Maranello-based outfit has made progress as the European leg of the campaign gets into gear, perhaps more than any other team. The key now is to convert that improvement into a solid result on race day, to try to belatedly get its badly stuttering title defence off the starting grid too.