European Grand Prix, first qualifying: Raikkonen rains on Schumacher's parade

Kimi Raikkonen set the fastest time in the first qualifying session for the European Grand Prix, outpacing championship leader and home-town hero Michael Schumacher by 0.364s before a rainstorm late in the session caused chaos

European Grand Prix, first qualifying: Raikkonen rains on Schumacher's parade

By virtue of his newly gained championship lead, the Ferrari ace was the first to take to the track, and lapped the track in an impressive 1m30.353s. But Raikkonen, who was second to run, responded by becoming the only driver to break into the 1m29s mark around the Nurburgring circuit.

Williams ace Juan Pablo Montoya set the third fastest time to ensure that three different teams were represented in the top three slots on the grid. The Colombian's team-mate, Ralf Schumacher, qualified fourth, ahead of Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard.

The famously unpredictable Eifel mountain weather played its part in making the session one of two halves. With the drivers lapping in championship order, the top 12 runners were able to complete their times in the dry, only for a massive rainstorm to hit the track right as Mark Webber came out to set his time.

After running on at the chicane due to the slippery conditions, the Jaguar star was a full 6s slower than Raikkonen, but he escaped comparatively lightly, as the rain began to fall more heavily and started to flood the track.

Cristiano da Matta was the next to run, although a spin at the second corner and several more lurid moments caused him to abort his lap. Jacques Villeneuve suffered an even more unfortunate fate. Still on slick tyres, the Canadian began to aquaplane on the long run down to the Dunlop Curve, and he was powerless to stop his car from spinning off into the gravel trap.

This brought out the red flags, and allowed even more water to fall on the track. By the time Olivier Panis was allowed to resume his qualifying run, he could only manage a time 27s than Raikkonen.

Nick Heidfeld earned himself the satisfaction of being the quickest of the runners to lap in the wet, ahead of British rookie's Ralph Firman and Justin Wilson. The latter was an impressive 1.375s faster than his team-mate Jos Verstappen in identical conditions.

The luckiest driver in the session may well have been BAR's Jenson Button. The Briton dislodged his front wing running over a corner marker at the Veedol chicane, which cost him several seconds and looked likely to force him way down the order. However, the appearance of the rain shortly afterwards ensured him of the 11th fastest time.

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