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Alonso heads Renault front row in China

World champion Fernando Alonso claimed pole position for Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix with a bold performance in a rain-hit qualifying session on Saturday

 His Renault teammate Italian Giancarlo Fisichella took second place on the grid as the Michelin-clad teams took full advantage of their advantage in wet conditions.

Spaniard Alonso's title rival Michael Schumacher could only claim sixth place on the grid in his Ferrari.

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was third ahead of his Honda teammate Briton Jenson Button after a session in which the Michelin tyres worked far better in the conditions than their rivals' Bridgestone.

Finn Kimi Raikkonen was fifth for McLaren Mercedes-Honda and his teammate Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa was seventh behind the retirement bound Schumacher.

Schumacher was the only driver running on Bridgestone tyres to finish in the top ten, but he had nothing to celebrate as Alonso secured his 15th pole.

After a dismal morning of intermittent drizzle, the afternoon qualifying session was run in steady rain.

The track temperature was only 22 degrees Celsius and the air temperature just 21.

The first part of qualifying was red-flagged to a halt when Portuguese driver Tiago Monteiro of the Spyker MF1 team stopped on the track at turn two, shortly after Finn Kimi Raikkonen had gone off and continued at turn 11 in his McLaren.

After a five-minute break, the session resumed and saw Australian Mark Webber also go off and on in his Williams before the chequered flag.

The drivers eliminated were the two Toyota men Italian Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher of Germany, the two Spyker-MF1 of Monteiro and his teammate Dutchman Christijan Albers and both Super Aguri drivers Japanese Takuma Sato and Sakon Yamamoto.

The second mini-session then began with a series of drivers struggling with the conditions as they sought to clock improved times.

The spinners included both Renault men, Alonso and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, the Italian Toro Rosso driver Vitantonio Liuzzi, Pole Robert Kubica in his BMW Sauber, American Scott Speed in his Toro Rosso and Liuzzi again.

Both the Renault men went off at turn one, but recovered as team chief Flavio Briatore shook his head in anguish on the pit wall.

As the rain continued to fall, Brazilian Barrichello also spun off in his Honda, at turn one, but managed to recover control of his car and rejoin the fray.

By this time, it was clear that the conditions were favouring the Michelin-running cars as the timesheets were led by Alonso and Fisichella with Button and Barrichello filling the top four and the two Ferrari drivers struggling to make the top 12.

Schumacher was on track as the chequered flag fell to end the second session and, under pressure in the conditions with his Bridgestone tyres, he delivered a lap of 1:45.660 to claim eighth place. Massa failed to make the cut with the 13th best time.

The session therefore saw German Nico Rosberg and his Williams teammate Webber eliminated, Liuzzi and Massa along with Briton David Coulthard in his Red Bull and American Scott Speed in his Toro Rosso.

For Massa, it meant a starting spot on the back row of the grid because of his enforced engine change on Friday - a blow that in this weather could prove devastating for the Ferrari team and for Schumacher's bid for an eighth drivers' title.

Conditions deteriorated further for the final part-session and the air temperature fell to 19 with 90 per cent humidity as the cars filed out of the pitlane.

As usual, the real action was left for the final few minutes. 

Chinese GP qualifying breakdown Session 1 Session 2 Session 3
Pos Driver Team   Pos Time Lap Pos Time Lap Pos Time Lap
1. Alonso Renault M 1. 1:44.128 5 1. 1:43.951 6 1. 1:44.360 10
2. Fisichella Renault M 2. 1:44.378 4 2. 1:44.336 6 2. 1:44.992 9
3. Barrichello Honda M 12. 1:47.072 9 6. 1:45.288 8 3. 1:45.503 9
4. Button Honda M 6. 1:45.809 9 3. 1:44.662 9 4. 1:45.503 9
5. Raikkonen McLaren M 4. 1:44.909 7 8. 1:45.622 6 5. 1:45.754 9
6. M.Schumacher Ferrari B 14. 1:47.366 6 9. 1:45.660 9 6. 1:45.775 9
7. de la Rosa McLaren M 3. 1:44.808 6 5. 1:45.095 8 7. 1:45.877 9
8. Heidfeld BMW M 10. 1:46.249 8 4. 1:45.055 9 8. 1:46.053 10
9. Kubica BMW M 8. 1:46.049 8 7. 1:45.576 9 9. 1:46.632 9
10. Doornbos Red Bull M 11. 1:46.387 7 10. 1:45.747 8 10. 1:48.021 9
11. Speed Toro Rosso M 9. 1:46.222 8 11. 1:45.851 7      
12. Coulthard Red Bull M 7. 1:45.931 8 12. 1:45.968 7      
13. Massa Ferrari B 13. 1:47.231 6 13. 1:45.970 9      
14. Liuzzi Toro Rosso M 5. 1:45.564 6 14. 1:46.172 9      
15. Webber Williams B 16. 1:48.560 9 15. 1:46.413 9      
16. Rosberg Williams B 15. 1:47.535 9 16. 1:47.419 9      
17. R.Schumacher Toyota B 17. 1:48.894 9            
18. Trulli Toyota B 18. 1:49.098 9            
19. Albers Midland B 19. 1:49.542 9            
20. Monteiro Midland B 20. 1:49.903 6            
21. Sato Super Aguri B 21. 1:50.326 6            
22. Yamamoto Super Aguri B 22. 1:55.560 7            

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