Ferrari one-two robs Ralf of first front row start

Michael Schumacher took his sixth consecutive pole position and his third from three attempts in the Malaysian Grand Prix. Behind the reigning world champion, his team mate Rubens Barrichello took a last-gasp second for Ferrari - and in doing so robbed Formula 1 of its first all-Schumacher front row

Ferrari one-two robs Ralf of first front row start

Ralf's form may have been the surprise of qualifying, but until the dying seconds of the session it was almost matched by the lacklustre form of the McLaren-Mercedes duo. Unable to chase and catch the MP4-16's Sepang understeer (despite resorting to some rather homemade-looking nose fins at one point), Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard were marooned at the base of the top 10 for much of the session, until rallying to fourth and eighth respectively on the last possible lap.

Schumacher's pole time of 1m35.220s was over two seconds faster than his 2000 benchmark of 1m37.397s. The German set the lap with just four minutes of the session to run, demoting his brother's flying Williams-BMW to second. Then, with only a minute still to go, Barrichello ejected Ralf from the front row with a 1m35.319s 'quicky' that edged the Williams by 0.192s.

With the Michelin-shod Williams-BMWs of Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya transformed from the mid-grid machines of yesterday, Ralf put his FW23 on top with 20 minutes gone, but was knocked off the top slot first by Barrichello and then by his older brother.

After a re-group and a think, Schuey Jr was back out with 26 minutes to run and set the 1m36.036s lap that would hold top slot until Barrichello and then - yep, you guessed it - Schuey Sr came out to play again. But it wasn't game over just yet, and with a new set of Michelins bolted on, Ralf was back on pole with 11 minutes to go.

Into the final five minutes of the session, with the wind beginning to pick up, but the track temperature dropping Ferrari unleashed its attack for the final time. Still sat in his car, Ralf could only grimace as big brother went more than half a second up at the second sector, and could only grimace as the Ferrari stopped the clocks 0.291s quicker than the Williams.

Still, at least two brothers sharing the front row looked like becoming a first for F1... Until Barrichello blasted out of the final 180-degree left-hander and crossed the line to give Ferrari its second consecutive front row lock-out.

Williams team boss Sir Frank looked stoic under the circumstances, and why not? And especially since F1 rookie Juan Pablo Montoya had come back frighting from a dreadful Friday to bag sixth on the grid. Sure, Williams had been tipped to join Ferrari and McLaren as potential race-winners in 2001, but this early? And as Ferrari's only realistic opposition? Go figure.

"I'm definitely surprised after yesterday's performance," said Ralf. "I didn't think we'd be that close, but we've got a good package and I got a good lap."

Brother Michael added: "It's great to see him there. Him and the team have done a great job and I'd rather have him there than anybody else. Our father and mother must have nearly had a heart attack and nearly gone mad as we were battling it out."

Schumacher is the first driver to take six consecutive poles since Mika Hakkinen in 1999. In Sunday's race, he will also attempt to become the first driver in the modern era of F1 to take six consecutive wins. But despite their lacklustre performance so far, the world champion is not ruling out a tough battle from the McLarens.

"The time difference was pretty big," he said, "but we've seen it before. Mika is still in a good position to have a good race."

Fifth behind Hakkinen was the Jordan-Honda of Jarno-Trulli, with Jacques Villeneuve's BAR-Honda seventh behind Montoya. With Coulthard eighth, Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the second Jordan and Olivier Panis in the second BAR completed a top 10 containing just five marques.

Sauber's Nick Heidfeld was best of the rest in 11th, just over two tenths quicker than Eddie Irvine's Jaguar, which had been Michelin's top runner for the first three free practice sessions of the weekend.

Benetton held on to the 16th and 17th slots it had clawed its way to in the final free practice session, while Minardi annexed the final row of the grid, Tarso Marques getting ahead of team mate Fernando Alonso in the final reckoning.

Full report to follow. For full results click here.

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