F1: Alonso heads up Renault front row in China

Fernando Alonso will start from pole position for the sixth time this season in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix as the Renault team locked out the front row.

The new world champion’s lap was inch perfect until the final corner, where he lost maybe a tenth to a small mistake.

Still it was a surprise when Alonso’s time of 1m34.080s was not beaten by the last man to run – his nemesis Kimi Raikkonen.

But the Finn made several mistakes on his qualifying lap and could manage no better than the third quickest time.

Those mistakes however may have been born out of a split strategy from McLaren.

Juan Pablo Montoya qualified fifth despite being second man out on a track that was significantly dirtier than it was at the end of the hour.

His time stood until Jenson Button – fourth from last to run – went 0.3s faster.

It is possible that the Colombian was running with a lighter fuel load than McLaren would normally consider and that Kimi – whose car was a real handful – is considerably heavy.

With Giancarlo Fisichella second quickest, 0.3s slower than his Renault team-mate, which could again be down to fuel, we are in for an interesting first few laps tomorrow.

Particularly since the Italian will not be keen to allow Raikkonen past again so soon after Japan.

Jenson Button was an excellent and encouraging fourth fastest.

The Brit is now fully recovered from the stomach problems that knocked him sideways on Thursday and the fact that he was less than 0.4s slower than Raikkonen means the 555-coloured BAR could be a factor in the race.

Michael Schumacher could have been higher than sixth for Ferrari but ran wide at the first corner – the same place he spun at last year.

David Coulthard, whose Red Bull split the Ferraris, was excellent again.

The Scot has been buried inside the top ten all weekend and it was no less than he deserved to go seventh quickest and is clearly aiming for a points finish to round off a strong season.

Rubens Barrichello was eighth ahead of Ralf Schumacher who once again got the better of his Toyota team-mate Jarno Trulli (12th).

Mark Webber was another to have shone through free practice, but when it came to it his Williams proved a handful and he could do no better than tenth.

Felipe Massa was 11th for Sauber ahead of Trulli, Antonio Pizzonia and Christian Klien.

Narain Karthikeyan did well to go 15th for Jordan ahead of Jacques Villeneuve – who has struggled for pace so far this weekend.

Takuma Sato was the first man out on track and paid the price with 17th position, although the Japanese driver may have fuelled heavy for the race.

Christijan Albers was 18th for Minardi ahead of Jordan’s Tiago Monteiro and his own team-mate Robert Doornbos.

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