For the sixth grand prix in a row, Schumacher will start from pole. But for a while during qualifying at Sepang it looked as though that the Schumacher was going to be Ralf rather than his older brother Michael. The two Germans, and the second ...
For the sixth grand prix in a row, Schumacher will start from pole. But for a while during qualifying at Sepang it looked as though that the Schumacher was going to be Ralf rather than his older brother Michael. The two Germans, and the second Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello, staged an epic duel for pole; trading the top spot on eight occasions, before the elder Schumacher settled the matter with a time over two seconds faster than his 2000 pole.
The result means that the German has been at the head of the grid for every race held at the Malaysian track, and his sixth straight pole leaves him just two short of Ayrton Senna's record. However, he had to work hard for his 34th career pole, which takes him above Alain Prost and Jim Clark in the all-time list. However, he was pleased to be fighting against his brother rather than his usual foes. "Where the challenge comes from at the end of the day doesn't matter," he said, "but I would rather see Ralf there."
It was Barrichello who grabbed the second front row spot. The Brazilian twice held pole, was the first driver top break the 1m36s bracket. He looks a lot more competitive compared to his team-mate than he did last year. His last-gasp lap was less than a tenth slower than the world champion, and he was delighted with the way the car is performing.
"I made a mistake on the first two runs," he said. "I made changes to the car that didn't go my way. After that I tipped it in the right direction and was much more comfortable with the car on the third run, I knew I had everything I needed for the final push, it's close, but I'm really happy."
The surprise of qualifying was the performance of Ralf Schumacher in the Williams. With the Michelin tyres obviously working well, and the BMW engine making the car the quickest through the speed traps, the 25-year-old was in inspired form. He set provisional pole early on in the session, and then twice responded by re-taking the top spot after others had improved. However, on his final run, when he needed to beat his brother's time he could not coax the speed out of the FW22. Nevertheless, it was a great showing, and third equaled his highest ever starting position.
"I'm definately surprised, after yesterday's performance I didn't think we were in any way close to this position," he admitted. "We had a good package today but this is qualifying and we don't know how we will compare in the race."
On the evidence of their performance in qualifying, the race is going to be tough for the McLaren drivers. Mika Hakkinen managed to drag the fourth best time out of the MP4-16 in the dying minutes of the session, which hauled him up from 10th, but team-mate Coulthard was out of sorts, and could do no better than eighth.
Burti a solid 15th
After setting the quickest time on Friday, Jordan's Jarno Trulli was expected to be a factor in qualifying. However, the Italian ran wide on his opening lap, bouncing the EJ11 over the grass. He languished at the back of the top 10 for most of the session, before vaulting up the order to fifth at the flag. He narrowly beat best-placed rookie Juan Pablo Montoya, who despite missing the whole of Friday free practice put his Williams in the top six.
Jacques Villeneuve showed no ill effects of his Australian shunt by taking seventh; team-mate Olivier Panis was 10th. Jordan also had two cars in the top 10, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen in ninth. Nick Heidfeld took 11th for Sauber, ahead of Jaguar Racing's Eddie Irvine.
The Ulsterman claimed Villeneuve blocked him on his best run, although he doubted whether it would have been good enough for the top 10 position he craved. A power steering problem on his final run cost him time. He was disappointed by the adverse way the car was affected by the heat, although he was pleased to see the Michelins working so effectively on the Williams'.
Luciano Burti was less than a second down on his team-mate on his first ever visit to Sepang, claiming 15th spot. The team was happy with the solid job he did.
Jean Alesi battled his Prost into 13th. The AP04 looked very nervous through the faster corners, while team-mate Gaston Mazzacane was a lowly 20th. Both Benettons struggled. Giancarlo Fisichella had a brief off track moment, but ended the day ahead of team-mate Jenson Button in 16th and 17th places respectively.
Neither Arrows performed well, while the Minardi drivers had mechanical troubles, although they both got well within 107 per cent of Schumacher's pole time.