British Grand Prix - qualifying

Rubens Barrichello scored his third pole position, and his first for Ferrari in Saturday's qualifying for the British Grand Prix. The Brazilian climbed from his car without realising that his time had been good enough, such was the rough-and-tumble nature of the session which began as it had ended, in something of an air of panic

British Grand Prix - qualifying

There was an understandable early rush for times at the beginning of qualifying on Saturday, as teams tried to set quick times lest the ever-present threat of rain become a reality.

The early pace setters were the Arrows cars of Pedro de la Rosa and Jos Verstappen, who traded fastest times in the opening minutes. The dutchman was still present in the top four half way through the session, making use of the Arrows' good grip and traction. De La Rosa had been shuffled back to last place by 40 minutes into the session, but on his next lap, set the fastest first sector of all proving both his capability and that of the car.

Astoundingly, the lap was good for third overall provisionally. Even less believable, Verstappen was fastest overall with less than a minute to go!

Heinz Harald Frentzen missed the chance to go fastest when he had a slide at Stowe. He had set the fastest sector time in his Jordan, but ceded that honour to WilliamsF1's Ralf Schumacher - a development that had Williams and BMW directors Patrick Head and Gerhard Berger literally jumping for joy!

However, Frentzen made good on his promise with the next lap, setting a 1m31.5s lap. The Jordans were looking promising generally, and Jarno Trulli built up to a provisional second spot at half distance. The Italian was able to put in some stunningly quick final sector, clearly the result of good traction through the complex.

Frentzen matched this provisional spot towards the end of the session, as the times began to tumble and the lead swapped between Coulthard, Villeneuve, Schumacher and Hakkinen all within a matter of seconds.

However, the usual front runners had a strangely muted first outing with World Champion Mika Hakkinen's first flying lap good enough only for fourth, and Schumacher's for third - despite a fastest first and second sector time.

Normal service was resumed when Hakkinen then blitzed the field with a lap fully 1.8 seconds faster than Frentzen's current best. This massive increase suggested not only that the harder Bridgestone tyres were performing best on their second run, and that the track was, in any case, drying.

Jacques Villeneuve once again provided entertainment with his superior car control - the Canadian was on course for a top-three time, when over-application of the throttle led to a broadside slide at the Abbey chicane.

This looked spectacular, but Villeneuve consummately caught the car with swift steering inputs and a dab of the brakes.

The 1997 World Champion was in stunning form, tussling with the McLarens and Ferraris for top spot.

Rubens Barrichello took over at the front with 30 minutes to go, as the seesaw swung back in favour of Ferrari. However, the track was clearly getting progressively quicker, and Rubens had already completed 8 of his allotted 12 laps.

This led some to suggest that the Brazilian was being employed by Ferrari as a guinea pig to test out the track and car settings for Michael Schumacher, who was the team's real chance at pole.

The conditions still led to a somewhat shuffled appearance to the field in some measure, as Minardi's Marc Gene, Sauber's Pedro Diniz, and Prost's Jean Alesi all took turns near the front of the grid.

By the two-thirds mark, Jenson Button had appeared in second spot as the track steadily quickened. At this point, the top runners appeared reluctant to come out, perhaps considering that their laps would be better used at the end.

David Coulthard was the first to come out, and that opened the floodgates. Villeneuve, who had hooked up his car brilliantly, displaced Coulthard within seconds. The Scot had barely recovered provisional pole when Michael Schumacher, who had leapt up from fifteenth, beat him again.

The German had barely time to draw breath when Hakkinen moved the provisional pole spot ahead once again.

The late scramble for times was predictable and mad, Irvine, Villeneuve, Verstappen, Barrichello all sitting on the top spot within seconds of each other. Michael Schumacher crossed the line with an estimated 2 seconds to go!

Hakkinen's last lap was good for third, and Schumacher's only fifth, the German making mistake in the second sector.

His team mate, however, made no such errors, and held on brilliantly to take the third pole of his career, with the Jordan of Heinz Harald Frentzen joining him on the front row.

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