First qualifying: Barrichello on top

Rubens Barrichello was fastest in the first qualifying session for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, giving him the last run in tomorrow's all-important final qualifying period. But despite the Ferrari driver's position at the top of the times, the new format proved an entertaining success and threw up some big surprises

First qualifying: Barrichello on top

The most significant of these was the pace of the BAR-Hondas, particularly in the hands of Jacques Villeneuve who qualified a spectacular third, despite getting only two fast laps in the morning free practice session before his engine expired. Kimi Raikkonen was second quickest for McLaren.

Barrichello set a time of 1m26.372s, 0.179s ahead of Raikkonen, and said: "Everything is really new for everyone and I was quite excited going out there and doing the time. It's a good to go and try out the new rules. This [session] is the best time to try and go as fast as you can."

Barrichello's time was nearly eight tenths of a second faster than team-mate Michael Schumacher who was fourth quickest, prompting speculation the world champion ran with a heavier fuel load in order to get a feel for tomorrow's session which will decide the grid order. The German denied this, however.

"I am not usually that far off my team-mate," said Schumacher, "and I am a little disappointed, but we can work with fourth place on the grid and we will make some changes before tomorrow. Rubens was just quicker than me today."

Villeneuve's team-mate Jenson Button was initially fourth fastest before the Canadian bumped him down the order and team boss David Richards hinted that the much-publicised inter-team rivalry may have played its part.

"Jacques was extraordinary this afternoon," said Richards. "I think Jenson's time may have wound him up a bit! This new qualifying format is a high pressure environment and they suit certain drivers differently and I think that Jacques reacts well to that. He is very calm under pressure."

Villeneuve was more surprised with his performance: "We had no time to do any set-up work this morning we had so little running. In fact I didn't even know where to brake! But the car is good and the tyres held up well. We have been here enough times over the years for me to be able to find my way around."

David Coulthard (McLaren) was a similar amount of time away from Raikkonen, but didn't make any mistakes and looked smooth for his 1m27.242s time, good enough for sixth place. His added further weight to the theory some teams were running cars on differing strategies to evaluate set-ups for tomorrow, when fuel loads will be critical.

Renault's Fernando Alonso could have been higher than seventh but braked too deep into Turn Three and lost his momentum. The Spaniard still managed to outqualify his more experienced team-mate Jarno Trulli who was ninth, just slower than Toyota's Olivier Panis.

Juan Pablo Montoya was 10th and his time of 1m27.450s was indicative of just how poorly the new WilliamsF1 BMW FW25 performed. Montoya looked out of shape in several corners while his team-mate Ralf Schumacher made a mistake early on in his lap and ended the session way down in 16th.

Cristiano da Matta looked good for a top five time on his F1 qualifying debut. After the second split, the Brazilian was just over a tenth down on Barrichello, but was another to feel the single-lap pressure and missed a braking point leaving him 11th.

The Sauber-Petronas boys both looked on the edge of an accident, the C22 was skittish and wild, Nick Heidfeld and Heinz-Harald Frentzen luridly sliding their way round to 12th and 13th ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, who never recovered from technical problems he encountered on his Jordan-Ford during the morning session.

Jaguar Racing had looked good in the morning session, with Mark Webber fifth fastest, but a driver error by the Australian and a tardy lap from Antonio Pizzonia saw them qualify 15th and 19th respectively.

British rookies, Ralph Firman and Justin Wilson, suffered for their lack of F1 track time. The Jordan driver went right off the track at Turn 13 and, although he recovered and blamed understeer, never looked likely to go any quicker than 17th. Wilson had no such moments and was less than four tenths off his more experienced team-mate Jos Verstappen, although this was not enough to stop him being last, and therefore first off tomorrow morning.

The cars will run in reverse order for tomorrow's one-lap shoot-out which starts at 03:00 Saturday morning UK time.

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