World champion Michael Schumacher dominated qualifying for the 17th and final round of this year's Formula 1 world championship in Suzuka, Japan. It is the 11th time this season that Schumacher has set the fastest qualifying time although that...
World champion Michael Schumacher dominated qualifying for the 17th and final round of this year's Formula 1 world championship in Suzuka, Japan. It is the 11th time this season that Schumacher has set the fastest qualifying time although that falls short of Nigel Mansell's all-time record of 14, set in 1992. It is Schumacher's fourth consecutive pole at Suzuka and the 43rd of his career. He has admitted, however, that he might let team-mate Rubens Barrichello pass him in the race, to boost the Brazilian's chances of finishing second in the world championship. BMW WilliamsF1 Team and Michelin will start from the front and second row.
The Michelin-shod BMW WilliamsF1 Team came closest to challenging Schumacher. Juan Pablo Montoya and Michael's younger brother Ralf set the pace during the morning's final free practice session and went on to claim second and third places on the grid. It was a particularly good performance by Montoya, who has not previously raced at a track that is widely acknowledged to be one of the most challenging in F1. "Experience round this place would help a lot," Montoya said, "so to be second is not too bad. Michael was gaining time on us in the first sector of the track. I was as quick as him in the second sector and faster in the third, but his advantage at the start of the lap made the difference."
Barrichello took fourth on the grid ahead of Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes), who is about to start his final race before taking a sabbatical from the sport. Four Michelin cars will line up in the top 10. Mild Seven Benetton Renault Sport team-mates Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button were sixth and ninth the best qualifying performances of the season for both drivers.
Of the other Michelin runners, Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing) was 13th, Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Prost-Acer) 15th, Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar Racing) 16th, Fernando Alonso (European Minardi) 18th, Tomas Enge (Prost- Acer) 19th and Alex Yoong (European Minardi) 22nd. Enge suffered no serious ill-effects from his high-speed accident on Friday morning, although his neck was still a little sore. The Czech spun on his fourth run, but otherwise had a trouble-free day. Alonso once again qualified ahead of several potentially faster cars and he might have gone faster still had he not run across the grass on his final run.
Tomorrow's race marks the 201st and last in popular Frenchman's Jean Alesi's 12-year F1 career. He qualified his Jordan 10th fastest.
Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director) :
How do you feel about the way Michelin's tyres have performed today?
"Things have gone well and there were solid performances by the BMW-Williams and Benetton-Renault teams. We are satisfied with our results, although I feel a little cross that we failed to get pole position. But in some respects it is good to feel frustrated, because that's a sign that we have become accustomed to challenging for pole positions and victories, which is a nice position to be in during our F1 comeback season."
Is it clear whether teams would be advised to use the primary (A) or option (B) tyre in the race?
"All our partner teams worked hard this morning in order to confirm the accuracy of what they learned yesterday, when we felt that the option tyre was quicker although the primary had its merits. I had better not say whether both kinds of tyre will be used in the race, because our partners prefer to keep that kind of information to themselves."
Do you feel confident that the tyres will stand up to a race distance in terms of durability?
"It is never wise to be over-confident before the start, especially at a track where we haven't previously raced with grooved F1 tyres. Generally, the grands prix take less of a toll on tyres than we sometimes fear, for a whole host of reasons that we have been able to identify during the season. Suzuka is a tough track, but we should be able to cover a full stint without any problems."
There was a big gulf in performance in the first sector between the pole time and the two Williams- BMWs. Is that attributable to the tyre factor?
"The problematic first sector is certainly a challenge and cost us any chance of taking pole. We weren't quick there and must find out why. Is it down to tyres? That's a possibility, but not a certainty. There are no miracles in this business and you can usually find a reason for such things."
Will the Michelin cars start on new or scrubbed tyres tomorrow?
"That's something we haven't yet decided, but we will probably use scrubbed rubber."