It's a Schumacher front row for the Japanese Grand Prix, Michael winning the battle of the brothers to take pole position in the Ferrari with a time of 1:33.542. Ralf's Williams was half a second behind but it was Mark Webber that stole the show,...
It's a Schumacher front row for the Japanese Grand Prix, Michael winning the battle of the brothers to take pole position in the Ferrari with a time of 1:33.542. Ralf's Williams was half a second behind but it was Mark Webber that stole the show, the Jaguar driver taking a superb position three on the grid.
The conditions were much improved but the track was still damp and some spray was kicked up as the first runners went out. Everyone was out on full wet tyres and Rubens Barrichello clocked the initial fastest time in preliminary qualifying, 1:41.001, with BAR's Jenson Button and McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen in second and third respectively.
Fernando Alonso followed in fourth for Renault and Takuma Sato took over from Barrichello, the BAR clocking 1:40.135. Giancarlo Fisichella's Sauber took second and David Coulthard's McLaren slotted into fourth.
Felipe Massa's Sauber posted seventh and Webber shot to the top with a 1:39.170, the Jaguar nearly a second up on Sato. Juan Pablo Montoya managed 10th for Williams and Jacques Villeneuve went one ahead of teammate Alonso for 9th as the order was shuffled down. Michael blitzed the competition with a 1:38.397, nearly eight tenths up on Webber.
Jordan's Nick Heidfeld outdid Montoya to take 12th and Olivier Panis put in a good effort for Toyota, third fastest. Timo Glock also bettered Montoya, taking 14th behind teammate Heidfeld. Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner spun off into the gravel in the second sector and teammate Gianmaria Bruni was seven seconds off the pace.
Ralf was a vast improvement on Montoya, clocking second fastest, four tenths down on brother Michael. Christian Klien's Jaguar was the penultimate runner and had a good effort for 13th, in between the Renaults. Jarno Trulli was last man out for Toyota and had an absolute storming lap, taking provisional pole by nearly seven tenths, 1:37.716.
A superb effort by Trulli in his first qualifying for Toyota but could he hold up in the second session? Michael and Ralf were second and third respectively and although there was still some standing water, the track was improving and a dry line was appearing. Would anyone be tempted to go out on intermediate tyres in the final session?
Baumgartner did not make a second run after his earlier spin so Bruni was first out and looked to be on intermediates. The Italian clocked 1:48.069, about two and a half seconds down on his pre-qualifying time. Montoya bounced back from his poor first lap and went over ten seconds faster than Bruni, a provisional pole time of 1:37.653, quicker than Trulli in the first session.
Glock also bettered Bruni but was some five seconds down from Montoya and teammate Heidfeld went faster to take second, 4.3 off the Williams. Alonso was up in the first sector and in the middle and rounded it off in the last to take provisional pole by nearly a second, 1:36.663.
Klien made a good effort to take third, although 1.5 off Alonso's time, and Villeneuve was eight tenths up in just the first sector. He lost a lot of the advantage in the middle but it was enough to demote teammate Alonso from the top by nearly four tenths, 1:36.274. Massa skipped into the gravel and aborted his lap, a shame for the feisty Brazilian but perhaps a little too enthusiastic.
Raikkonen took third on his final flyer, half a second down from Villeneuve, and Button was on a mission. He clocked the fastest sectors right across the board and took provisional pole by over a second, 1:35.157, a cracking lap by the Englishman. Coulthard had a blinding last sector that put him second, but still nearly a second down on Button.
Barrichello seemed mediocre after the previous efforts of Button and Coulthard and only managed eighth after a brief off track excursion. Fisichella put his foot down and took second, marginally ahead of Coulthard and Sato rose to the challenge. On home ground the Japanese belted out a 1:34.897 to the delight of the fans, under three tenths up on teammate Button.
Panis managed a respectable sixth in his last qualifying session and Webber gave Jaguar something to cheer about. The Australian hurled it over the line for 1:34.571, an astounding lap for provisional pole and three tenths up on Sato. Ralf answered with a 1:34.032, half a second faster!
Michael took to the track, as did the sun, and was just thousandths down on Ralf by the middle of the lap. A stunning final sector gave him provisional pole by a half-second margin, 1:33.542. Trulli was last man out and posted a creditable sixth for Toyota.
So, a Schumacher front row at Suzuka but Webber was surely the star of qualifying. Third on the grid is a grand achievement -- can Jaguar go out with a leap to the podium? I'm tempting fate, aren't I? A very good result for BAR with Sato and Button lining up in fourth and fifth, Renault will be despairing with Villeneuve and Alonso on the edge of the top ten.
Excellent stuff from Ralf, proving his worth despite a three month lay-off, and putting Montoya to shame down in 13th. A very interesting grid, with Barrichello in 15th and Raikkonen 12th -- the race is anyone's guess. Michael on pole has to be the favourite for the win but there's a lot that could happen. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, R. Schumacher, Webber, Sato, Button, Trulli, Fisichella, Coulthard.