Analysis: Kimi Goes Soft, Alonso Hard

Tyre choice could play a key role in the outcome of this afternoon's Monaco Grand Prix, with pole position man Kimi Raikkonen believed to be on the Michelin option (soft) tyre, while fellow front row starter Fernando Alonso goes to the grid on the prime (harder) tyre

Raikkonen's blistering Saturday qualifying lap of 1:13.644 gave him almost half a second's advantage over Alonso's Renault, but some of that will have been down to the softer rubber. In this morning's second, race-fuel session, it was Alonso who lapped quicker, by almost four tenths of a second.

Alonso therefore registered a net gain of almost a full second vis a vis their respective empty-tank Saturday times and the obvious explanation is that McLaren has fuelled Raikkonen up to run a much longer first stint - possibly by as much as eight laps. The team appears to have judged things almost perfectly with Raikkonen retaining the aggregate pole by just 0.08s.

That could have been a close call for McLaren. Michelin is relieved that two of its 'fast' teams have gone different routes on tyres. Running the softer tyre on the Renault was apparently not a viable option and although the McLaren is easy on its tyres, some think that a full race on the softer option tyre could even be marginal for the MP4-20.

Raikkonen, therefore, may not want to punish the rubber too hard at the start of the race when the car is fuel-heavy. Had Alonso outqualified him - which he almost managed - or, indeed, if he beats the McLaren into the first corner, he may be able to force Raikkonen into running faster than he desires.

"We are very happy with our race pace and I'm confident," Alonso said after second qualifying.

Then there is Giancarlo Fisichella's performance with the second Renault. Monte Carlo is Fisichella's favourite circuit and he is invariably very quick around Monaco. A deficit of over six tenths of a second to Alonso in first qualifying was a surprise. But four tenths of that was down to a mistake in sector three. A more representative gap between the two would therefore have been around two tenths. But, in second qualifying, Fisichella was over a second slower than Alonso, suggesting that he may be fuelled as long as Raikkonen or even a tad longer.

If in the race, therefore, Raikkonen leads and runs below his potential to look after his tyres, and slow enough to allow Fisichella to keep up, the Finn could find himself facing a bigger threat from Fisichella than Alonso.

The immediate problem for Fisichella, however, is that he starts behind Mark Webber, who has once again done a superb qualifying job with the Williams. You would put money on the Renault making up an eight-yard deficit off the grid to beat the Williams into Turn 1, but if Fisichella doesn't, that should be the end of any winning chance.

"Our race pace looks better here then we have seen so far," Webber said, "but still not up there with the front row boys."

Webber acting as a 'jammer' car should also do the front row men a favour when it comes to the Ferraris.

Michael Schumacher has qualified eighth but his potential race pace is likely to be as strong as anyone's. Raikkonen, if he does lead and has to look after his rubber, will also have to be mindful of not running slowly enough to bring Schumacher/Ferrari and Bridgestone into the equation. Ideally, he will want to run faster than Webber but not so fast that he risks cooking the tyres.

Schumacher, from eighth, should not be able to challenge for a win barring unforeseen circumstances. "My car was well balanced and there were no particular problems," Schumacher said after second qualifying. "As for the race, we will have to see how we can use our strategy to make the most of it."

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