Hakkinen bounces back with A1 pole

Mika Hakkinen has returned to form and taken a commanding pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix

Hakkinen bounces back with A1 pole

Mika Hakkinen answered his critics with a stunning pole position for the Austrian Grand Prix, ending the session nearly 0.4s ahead of his McLaren team-mate David Coulthard.

The session started in frenetic style, with a brief rain shower causing widespread panic. Everyone bar the Jordans rushed out to set a 'banker' lap time and initially it looked like the balance of power at McLaren would remain in Coulthard's favour. The Scot held the provisional pole with Hakkinen behind Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello and Giancarlo Fisichella in fifth.

Further improvements by the midfield runners pushed Hakkinen down to tenth, before a scintillating second run put the double champion back to the head of the pack. He was never toppled, twice improving his time and ending the session with a pole time of 1m10.495s. It was Hakkinen's fourth pole of the season but his first since the San Marino Grand Prix, and his first appearance on the front row of the grid since the Spanish Grand Prix.

Coulthard always looked most likely to snatch the advantage away from his team-mate but abandoned a potential pole lap then failed to get close enough on his final effort, despite improving his time.

Rubens Barrichello outqualified Michael Schumacher for the first time since Silverstone in April. The Brazilian briefly held pole before the McLarens got into their stride and always looked like a match for his illustrious team-mate. Schumacher never seemed happy with his car, spinning in frustration at turn two and ending up over 0.2s down on Barrichello.

Jordan tried the unique tactic of sitting out the early rush, confident that the rain would soon disappear. Both Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen then ran their full 12 laps in a series of mid-session runs. It worked for the increasingly impressive Italian, he will start fifth, but Frentzen was ten places behind, albeit just 0.4s slower than his team-mate.

Trulli had to work hard to beat the BARs. Ricardo Zonta was in excellent form and qualified a career-best sixth, despite a big spin into the gravel at turn nine. It took a big effort from team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to get within 0.002s of the hitherto unimpressive Brazilian. As ever, the Canadian provided much of the excitement with some ragged edge laps, including a well-controlled 360 degree spin exiting the final corner.

Giancarlo Fisichella put in another unobtrusively impressive performance to take eighth, six places ahead of home hero and team-mate Alex Wurz.

Both Saubers were very fast, but both also spun off at crucial moments. Mika Salo lost his best run when he had a meeting with the gravel trap at the fast turn six but still qualified ninth. Team-mate Pedro Diniz will start between the two Arrows in 11th after spinning at turn two.

Nick Heidfeld put in a strong run to secure 13th for Prost, 0.3s ahead of 17th-placed team-mate Jean Alesi.

Jaguar and Williams had a miserable session, neither team ever looking like challenging for the top ten. Luciano Burti was thrown in at the deep end but did a more than respectable job in place of Eddie Irvine. His first run was within 0.1s of team-mate Johnny Herbert's but while the British driver later improved to 16th, Burti remained back in 21st, splitting the Minardi's.

Jenson Button outqualified Ralf Schumacher but will have nothing else to be cheerful about. Patrick Head was left shaking his head on the pit wall as his cars slumped to 18th and 19th, Schumacher in particular having to handle some lurid moments.

The race promises to be an intriguing one, mainly because of the inter-team battle at McLaren. Hakkinen's post-Magny-Cours holiday appears to have refreshed him, but Coulthard was right on his tail today. Last year this rivalry resulted in a first corner collision and cost Hakkinen victory, no doubt Michael Schumacher will be hoping to benefit from this in-fighting tomorrow, even though Barrichello looked the more convincing of the Ferrari drivers today.

Behind the big four, the battle is going to be equally intense between Trulli, the BARs, Fisichella and the Saubers, with just 0.7s covering fifth to 19th positions.


For qualifying results from the A1-Ring, click here.


To see minute by minute coverage of the Austrian GP qualifying, click here.

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