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Schumacher flies to pole for European GP

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Schumacher flies to pole for European GP

It was business as usual for Michael Schumacher in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, the Ferrari man taking the 60th pole position of his career with a brilliantly executed 1:28.351 flying lap. The German was over six tenths of a second up...

It was business as usual for Michael Schumacher in qualifying for the European Grand Prix, the Ferrari man taking the 60th pole position of his career with a brilliantly executed 1:28.351 flying lap. The German was over six tenths of a second up on second placed Takuma Sato, but Sato did a very good job for his first front row start. Renault's Jarno Trulli held provisional pole for some time but was finally relegated to third.

Michael Schumacher.
Photo by Bridgestone Corporation.

Conditions were fine and the track temperature was up in the high thirties as Trulli, winner of the last race, started the session. The Renault posted a reasonable 1:29.905 for the first time of pre-qualifying. Jenson Button, who was fastest in the morning practices, was nearly a second up by the middle sector and clocked 1:28.816 -- a very fast start for the BAR and slighter quicker than his best practice time.

Rubens Barrichello was the first Ferrari and slotted in behind Button, just a couple of tenths down. Juan Pablo Montoya, who had technical gremlins with his Williams this morning, was also on the pace, a few thousandths behind Barrichello for third. Felipe Massa's Sauber couldn't compete with the pace of big guns and posted three seconds off Button's time.

Cristiano da Matta led Toyota out and landed ahead of Trulli, four tenths off provisional pole for a promising start. Nick Heidfeld had better first and third sectors than Massa but the Jordan lost out in the middle and finished behind the Sauber. Olivier Panis gained two tenths on teammate da Matta in the middle sector and ended one place ahead.

Zsolt Baumgartner was an early runner for Minardi, due to finishing ninth in Monaco, and was over four seconds off the lead. Ralf Schumacher had storming middle and last sectors to take provisional pole with a 1:28.655, but brother Michael followed on and the Ferrari was even better, 1:28.278. Fernando Alonso was the first Renault out and slotted in between Barrichello and Montoya for fifth.

McLaren was on the pace in the morning practices and Kimi Raikkonen made a good pre-qualifying effort for fourth behind Button, six tenths off Michael. Gianmaria Bruni posted a near identical time to Minardi teammate Baumgartner, behind by just one hundredth. Jordan's Giorgio Pantano outdid Heidfeld by three tenths and Mark Webber was the first of the Jaguars.

Webber will have a one second penalty added to his final qualifying time due to setting his fastest practice time on Friday under yellow flags. He managed 11th on his pre-qualifying lap. Takuma Sato absolutely belted the BAR round the N?rburgring and took the top slot with an incredible 1:27.691, half a second up on Michael.

David Coulthard had a good lap to go ahead of Button for fourth, two positions ahead of Raikkonen, but red-flagged the session when his McLaren came to a halt on his in lap. At the restart the last two cars were Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella, who posted 12th, and Jaguar's Christian Klien, who slotted in behind teammate Webber. Coulthard's car made it back to the pits on the back of a truck, complete with him in it, but it was an engine failure.

Bruni was under investigation for leaving the pits when the exit lights were red, and posted a time well off the expected pace to start the final qualifying session. Baumgartner was three tenths down. Heidfeld easily outpaced them, over two seconds up with a 1:31.604. Teammate Pantano slotted in behind.

Massa, surprisingly, couldn't beat the Jordans, although he was only three thousandths behind Pantano. Klien demoted Heifeld, clocking 1:31.431, and Webber was up by six tenths to go to the top -- but he will have the one second penalty added to his time. Trulli was comfortably faster, 1:29.135 for provisional pole and much better than his pre-qualifying lap.

Fisichella was due out next but because he would have the penalty for the engine change on Friday, Sauber decided to not even bother with a second run. Da Matta had a good lap, half a second off Trulli for provisional second, and Panis went better again to take the position from his teammate. Montoya closed the gap to Trulli to two tenths for the popular second slot.

Alonso was the next to take second, 0.17 from Trulli, so the Renaults hooked it up better in the second session. Barrichello couldn't beat them but went ahead of Montoya. Raikkonen kicked up dust in the first sector but had a very good last one, beating the Ferrari and Alonso to take second, just two thousandths off Trulli.

McLaren decided to keep Coulthard in his race car rather than swap him to the spare, but he needed an engine change and will be demoted ten places. He didn't bother doing a second lap: "It was a mechanical failure inside the engine," said McLaren boss Ron Dennis of the Scot's problem after pre-qualifying. "We want to put him in the best shape for the race, we're going quite well here. (The penalty) will put him back to maybe 16th, 17th, so it's better to start from the back with the new engine and a good fuel load."

Button's lap was much anticipated but third was what he had to settle for, ahead of Alonso and Barrichello. Ralf struggled and landed behind Montoya, Williams looking unsettled. Michael was two tenths up on Trulli in the first sector, five in the middle and over seven by the end -- he made it look so easy! 1:28.351 was what last man out Sato had to beat.

Sato couldn't match Michael's pace but he was still going for it and joined the Ferrari on the front row in position two. Great stuff from Sato and a well deserved result. Michael's lap was superb and it will take not only hard work but a decent amount of luck to beat him tomorrow. "It's good to get back in the rhythm and forget about last week," said the current champion. "I am looking forward to the race after what happened in Monaco."

Sato flew off the line in Monaco -- although it's debatable if he jumped the start or not -- but even if he can get ahead at the first corner, that crucial first pit stop has been Ferrari's strength. "After qualifying third in Barcelona I wanted to be on the front row," said Sato. "The team have done a fantastic job,we achieved what we wanted and I'm looking forward to going side by side with the competitors."

Renault has been starting well and Trulli went from fourth to first at the start in Spain, so he can't be counted out either. Raikkonen has lost none of his flair, even if the McLaren has let him down at nearly every race. Fourth on the grid is a just reward but can the Mercedes engine go the race distance? Debatable, when Coulthard's couldn't even last qualifying. Button's fifth was a little disappointing. Renault has been uncomfortable round the N?rburgring this weekend but Trulli got it hooked up, and Alonso in sixth was the last driver under a second from pole.

"I thought we were easily going to be on the front row," Button admitted. "We've been strong in practice but I had really low grip in qualifying. My (second) lap was quicker than my pre-qualifying, but all the way round the lap I had low grip. Taku did a great job to get on the front row." As for the race, the start will be interesting. "Myself and Taku have both got a Renault behind us and they're very quick off the line," Button added.

Barrichello ended up seventh, which surely won't please him and Ferrari. Eighth and ninth was a poor show from Williams and Panis completed the top ten. Webber will start from 14th after his one second penalty, while Coulthard and Fisichella are relegated to the back, 19th and 20th respectively. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Sato, Trulli, Raikkonen, Button, Alonso, Barrichello, Montoya.

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