As predicted, weather played a decisive role in deciding the grid for the Australian Grand Prix as a torrent of Victoria's seasonal rain hit the circuit midway through the qualifying session. Just as predictable as the weather forecast was ...
As predicted, weather played a decisive role in deciding the grid for the Australian Grand Prix as a torrent of Victoria's seasonal rain hit the circuit midway through the qualifying session.
Just as predictable as the weather forecast was Ferrari's customary perfect judgement of when to take to the circuit as Rubens Barrichello surprisingly beat team-mate Michael Schumacher to pole position during the first 20 minute dry period on the Albert Park circuit. The Brazilian's personal achievement was also a milestone for Ferrari as the 'Prancing Horse' claimed its 150th pole in Formula One.
"Things worked out very nicely and I felt relaxed right from the outset, " reflected a delighted Barrichello. "It is great to be starting from pole and the rain helped me out as it has done in my career before. Both Michael and myself would have gone faster if the rain stayed away but it is good to be here."
In front of a record Australian crowd for qualifying, Mark Webber gave the home crowd an early taste of F1 fever 'oz style' as the first driver to venture out onto the circuit.
Due to the changeable weather conditions thrown up during free practice, a flotilla of cars left the pits early to get some early 'bankers' in during the dry conditions.
Following his heavy shunt in fourth free practice, Takuma Sato's Aussie experience went from bad to worse as the Japanese driver stopped on the circuit with gear selection problems in Giancarlo Fisichella's t-car.
Meanwhile, Fisichella became the first driver to set a time, albeit it a slow one in 1m32.283s. With spits of rain beginning to fall only minutes in, Barrichello jumped to the top of the sheets before the red flags came out following a collision involving a collision between David Coulthard and Jacques Villeneuve into the final corner.
The halt in the session gave Jordan the valuable time to fix Sato's car and the Renault's of Jenson Button and Jarno Trulli led the exodus back out onto the circuit. Michelin seemed to struggle in the colder circuit conditions although Juan Pablo Montoya jumped to second on the quarter hour mark ahead of Nick Heidfeld and Jenson Button.
Pole favourite Michael Schumacher made a few exploratory laps before driving back to the pits - a storm awaiting to erupt.
Ferrari's main rivals, Williams and McLaren threw their hats into the ring with Ralf Schumacher setting the fastest time of the weekend in 1m26.279s to top the times from Coulthard and Barrichello. Duly the storm erupted. No, not the angry Melbourne skies, but Michael Schumacher eclipsing his brother's time with a blistering 1m25.848s.
The circuit beginning to dry out somewhat, Barrichello snatched back pole in what already looked like a scarlet battle for pole. Elsewhere, the caged Jaguars of Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa were waiting for their time to pounce having completed just six laps between them half way through the session.
The half way mark seemed like as good a time as any for the entire field to assess proceedings from the pit lane, make minor set up changes and tyre choices before the final charge.
Montoya was the first driver to take to the circuit after the interval, but struggled to handle his FW24 as the rain began to fall with increasing ferocity. So Ferrari once again looked to have grabbed their window of opportunity perfectly with Barrichello upsetting the Schumacher apple cart.
"The first yellow flag certainly cost me time, but not as much as the red flag!" commented Schumacher. "Anyway, we are both at the front of the grid and that is exactly where we wanted to be."
Jaguar Racing's decision not to put in a succession of early laps backfired on the team with only Minardi's Alex Yoong behind them. But the real loser of qualifying was Jordan's Takuma Sato who failed to set a qualifying time after his earlier misfortunes.
"We knew from day one that this kind of thing can happen and we also had some mechanical probs and not enough downforce. Unfortunateky, the weather also came between us. But we really didn't have the speed here to start with," commented a disappointed Jaguar team boss Niki Lauda.
The final few minutes of the session gave teams the opportunity to try out wet weather settings in preparation for a wet race. The weather forecast for Sunday is for more of the same which should make for an exciting season opener.