Qual 2: Schu strikes back

He may have been out of sorts for the last few races, but Suzuka specialist Michael Schumacher has returned to the top after clinching his eighth pole of the season for this afternoon's Japanese Grand Prix.

Taking advantage of the drier track, the world champion eased into the top spot by nearly half a second over brother Ralf's Williams to put himself in prime position for the Japanese Grand Prix which takes place in just over three hours' time.

Having set the second quickest time in pre-qual, Schumacher was one of the lucky few to drive on a Suzuka track that for once wasn't drenched in water. While the spray was still kicking up at the beginning of the session, a dry line had appeared towards the end on some parts of the track to give the German and the other late runners a huge advantage.

"It was very difficult with practice only on Friday, then pre-qualifying and qualifying in one hit this morning," Schumacher said. "I was more lucky than Rubens being second to last car out and getting better circumstances, so there we are. I should be thankful for not having things so good in China, but having qualifying on the same day as the race is a bit difficult."

While Schumacher was obviously back in business, Mark Webber was the star of the session putting his Jaguar in third spot. The team won't be on the grid next year, but the Big Cat is clearly not going to lie down and die just yet.

Despite running in the drier conditions, Toyota's Jarno Trulli, who stole the show in pre-qualifying, had to settle for sixth spot behind the two BARs of Takuma Sato and Jenson Button. Home hero Sato failed to take his maiden F1 pole in front of his adoring fans, but he at least had his name at the top if only for a few minutes before Webber et al overhauled him.

Besides Schumacher Sr, Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella was the only other Bridgestone runner in the top 10. McLaren's David Coulthard out-paced his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in both qualifying sessions setting the eighth quickest time while the Finn was over a half a second slower in 12th.

Renault's fill-in Jacques Villeneuve also outshone team-mate Fernando Alonso in both sessions as he bids to redeem himself after a disappointing Chinese Grand Prix. The French-Canadian was ninth quickest, two places ahead of Alonso and nearly half a second faster.

Juan Pablo Montoya had a disastrous pre-qual session in which he was only faster than the two Minardis. His 18th position meant he was the third driver out in final qualifying and had no chance of getting anywhere near the top on the still damp circuit. He will line up 13th on the grid later today.

The Colombian can at least console himself that Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello is even further down the grid in 15th spot after an off-track excursion on his flying lap.

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