Fisichella fastest in first qualifying
Giancarlo Fisichella set the fastest time in opening qualifying for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix as a mid-session rainstorm helped shuffle the pack and set up the chance of a mixed grid for the season-opening event.

Fisichella set a time of 1:33.171 just seconds before a rainstorm ruined the chances of his rival front-runners and virtually assured him of starting Sunday's race from pole position.

New qualifying rules will see the opening session, which was run in the finishing order from last year's season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix, aggregated with Sunday morning's qualifying laps to decide the grid.

And with second-placed Jarno Trulli 2.099 seconds back in the lead Toyota and Fisichella's main rivals from McLaren and Ferrari much further behind, the new rules look to have thrown things up in the air from the very start.

World champion Michael Schumacher set his lap time in the worst conditions and finished 24.760 seconds off the pace leaving him with little chance of starting and further up than the second last row of the grid.

Australian Mark Webber, who was the sixth driver out in the session, finished third fastest in his Williams but was 3.546 seconds slower than Fisichella as his team-mate Nick Heidfeld finished down in seventh.

Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve finished fourth fastest, 3.813 seconds off the lead pace in his Sauber but his team-mate Felipe Massa was the unlucky driver who hit the downpour just after Fisichella's lap.

Red Bull Racing driver Christian Klien finished fifth fastest, just ahead of his more experienced team-mate David Coulthard after setting their times on a drying track earlier in the session.

Briton Jenson Button finished eighth fastest but was 8.341 seconds behind Fiscihella while Jordan Narain Karthikeyan finished ninth and McLaren driver Kimi Raikkonen finished off the top ten.

Dutchman Christijan Albers was the first man out on a damp track in temperatures of 16 degrees Celsius and he set a time of 1:49.230 in his 2005-spec Minardi, which had to be worked on overnight to meet the regulations.

His Austrian team-mate Patrick Friesacher followed but could not better him and it soon became clear that the two Minardi drivers were suffering from a severe lack of testing on their newly modified car.

Indian Karthikeyan, who crashed his Jordan at the end of morning practice and will be awarded a 10-spot grid penalty after changing his engine, was next out and moved five seconds ahead.

Button, who posted the final retirement of the season in Brazil, was the first lead runner on track and he set a benchmark time of 1:41.512 but with the sun rapidly drying the track suggested his name would soon slip down the timesheets.

German Heidfeld immediately went 1.795 seconds faster than Button, despite losing time when he went wide onto the grass during his lap, and Webber then blew his Williams team-mate's time away by a further three seconds.

Klien continued Red Bull's early pace to slot into second as conditions continued to dry out to leave a mostly dry track with occasional puddles on some of the corners.

Italian Trulli then went fastest but two-time Australian Grand Prix winner Coulthard, a self-proclaimed struggler with single-lap qualifying, complained of oversteer as he finished slower than team-mate Klien.

Villeneuve chose to risk dry tyres on his Sauber but he spun on his out-lap and only just managed to avoid the walls. He was slow in the first section but his gamble paid off on the latter part of the lap and he slotted into third.

The sky began to darken as Fisichella took to the track and he set the fastest time just seconds before a massive rainstorm drenched the track and left all remaining runners with no chance of improving on the Italian's time.

The soaking circuit saw Felipe Massa, the next man out, fail to finish his lap and Takuma Sato, out next, crash his BAR-Honda on his out-lap in turn eight and hit the wall hard.

The session was red-flagged after Schumacher's run to clear the debris from Sato's crash and when it re-started his team-mate Rubens Barrichello finished 12.310 seconds off the pace in the slippery conditions.

Raikkonen managed to finish just ahead of Barrichello to nudge his way into the top ten runners but Montoya, running last after winning in Brazil last year, failed to match his team-mate's pace and finished 11th.

The finishing times will leave Sunday's grid in a topsy-turvey order and, providing there are no unusual weather patterns on Sunday, the finishing order from Saturday's session is likely to remain similar for the grid itself.
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