Ralf Schumacher celebrated his 26th birthday in style by clinching his first Formula 1 pole position during qualifying for the French Grand Prix. The BMW WilliamsF1 Team - Michelin driver set the fastest lap ever seen at Magny-Cours - a 1m 12.989s.
Ralf Schumacher celebrated his 26th birthday in style by clinching his first Formula 1 pole position during qualifying for the French Grand Prix. The BMW WilliamsF1 Team - Michelin driver set the fastest lap ever seen at Magny-Cours - a 1m 12.989s. This was 0.01s faster than his brother Michael's Ferrari and 2.7s inside last season's pole position time. Nigel Mansell held the previous track record - 1m 13.894s, set during qualifying for the 1992 French GP. It is the fourth time this season - and the third in succession - that the Schumacher brothers have monopolised the front row of the grid for an F1 race. It marked Michelin's first pole position since it returned to F1 at the start of this year.
Nelson Piquet was the last driver to accomplish the feat for the Clermont-Ferrand company - he qualified fastest for the 1984 Portuguese GP at Estoril.
Schumacher Jnr, who is chasing his third win of the year, said: "This feels wonderful. On the evidence so far this weekend I wasn't sure that we would be able to beat Michael today. It was very tight - and I know we will be in for a close battle tomorrow. Being first then is what matters most. I just hope I can get a clean start tomorrow and break away."
The McLarens of David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen qualified third and fourth, ahead of Jarno Trulli (Jordan-Honda) and the second Williams-BMW of Juan Pablo Montoya. The Colombian has struggled to find a good chassis balance all weekend - and his final attempt to improve was spoiled when another car held him up on the final sector of the track.
It was an eventful afternoon for several of the remaining Michelin drivers. Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing-Michelin) set the pace early in the session, but he later spun twice at Imola corner. His team-mate Pedro de la Rosa ran onto the grass at the same point before they secured 12th and 14th positions.
Prost-Acer-Michelin racers Luciano Burti (15th) and Jean Alesi (19th) also had spins.
Mild seven Benetton Renault Sport-Michelin drivers Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button used a new specification engine for the first time to take 16th and 17th places respectively.
European Minardi-Michelin drivers Fernando Alonso and Tarso Marques were 21st and 22nd.
MICHELIN'S RACE :
Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director) :
Michelin has taken its first pole position since its F1 return and the 58th in its history. Does the fact we are racing in France add spice to the achievement?
"A little bit, yes, but we haven't changed our approach at all just because we are on home soil. This pole position proves that we have taken another step forward in our development curve, which is really satisfying. Ralf Schumacher drove absolutely superbly. He was slightly slower than his brother through one sector, but overall he managed to stay ahead and everyone at Michelin would like to congratulate him warmly. Now, however, we must turn our focus to the race."
Did you think pole position would be obtainable today?
"No, in all honesty. Given the lap times we saw in free practice this morning, we thought Ferrari would be untouchable and that we might have to be satisfied with yet another second place. We were very pleasantly surprised with the outcome."
Did Ralf run on new or scrubbed tyres?
"All four of them were new."
Any predictions about race strategy?
"Clearly that is going to be decisive tomorrow because there is so little to choose between the top two cars on the grid. In the circumstances, I'm sure you'll understand that I don't want to give too much away about our preferred pit stop strategy. What I can say, however, is that we have no worries about tyre wear and that our options are well suited to the track this weekend. The tyres we have used today won't compromise our race chances in any way. Getting pole position was a bonus, but above all we were looking to make sure we would be competitive on Sunday. We should definitely be on the pace tomorrow."
Gerhard Berger, BMW Motorsport
"This result simply confirms the progress made by the combined forces of BMW, WilliamsF1 and Michelin. We are delighted. The tyres played a key role in qualifying today and I take off my hat to the personnel at Michelin, who have done a great job since they came back to F1. Bravo."