Qualifying: New Ferrari sweeps front row on debut

Michael Schumacher showed that Ferrari means business with its new F2003-GA by placing it on pole position for tomorrow's Spanish GP at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya, with Rubens Barrichello joining him on the front row

Qualifying: New Ferrari sweeps front row on debut

This was the 52nd pole of the five-time World Champion's illustrious career and came despite being down on Barrichello in the first of the three lap sectors. "Actually, the first sector was fine," said Michael, "it was in Turn 9 and Turn 11 that I went off line. All weekend, Rubens has been very good and I thought that I might have to settle for second place behind him, but I came out ahead." His pole lap took just 1m17.762s, as opposed to the Brazilian's best of 1m18.020s.

World Championship points leader Kimi Raikkonen will be starting from the opposite end of the grid after he ran off line at Turn 7 and was unable to keep control on the dusty circuit. The McLaren driver's resultant ride through the gravel bed cost him four seconds and the team told him to abort the lap to "at least save him a lap and a bit of fuel for the race..." Team-mate David Coulthard had to qualify in the spare car after his engine failed and he drove around cautiously to qualify eighth, anxious not to make a mistake as he did in qualifying last time out at Imola. His best lap was 1m19.128s.

Spanish ace Fernando Alonso's strong early-season form brought the crowds in by their thousands, with more than 60,000 cheering him on to third place for Renault in 1m18.233s, up seven positions from his Friday qualifying time. This put him just one position ahead of team-mate Jarno Trulli who lapped in 1m18.615s and may perhaps be starting tomorrow's race with a heavier fuel load.

Jenson Button was delighted with fifth place on the grid for BAR, lapping in 1m18.704s. "Fifth is fantastic," he enthused, "but it wasn't a perfect lap..." Compared to the 11th fastest lap time of 1m19.563s set by his team-mate Jacques Villeneuve, it looked pretty good.

Toyota has been strong all meeting, making the most both of impressive straightline speed and considerable testing milegae here, with Olivier Panis reversing yesterday's inter-team powerplay to be sixth fastest on 1m18.811s as Cristiano da Matta slipped nine places to be 13th with a best of 1m19.623s.

Williams has been surprisingly off the pace all meeting and it took a tidy run from Ralf Schumacher for seventh place on the grid, his best lap of 1m19.006s being 0.371s and two places better than that of team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya.

Sauber has also looked out of sorts at the Circuit de Catalunya, but its drivers did well to work their way up from 16th and 17th in Friday qualifying to be 10th (Heinz-Harald Frentzen on 1m19.427s) and 14th (Nick Heidfeld in 1m19.646s).

After strong qualifying performances both in Interlagos and Imola, Jaguar's Mark Webber will be disappointed to be out of the top-10 here, his best lap of 1m19.615s good only for 12th. However, all eyes were turned on the performance of team-mate Antonio Pizzonia whose tenure of the team's second seat is known to be extremely tenuous. He was "a little bit disappointed" with his run to 16th grid slot, especially as he was almost 0.7s slower than Webber's best.

Jordan struggled and, for the first time, the incerasingly confident Ralph Firman outqualified Giancarlo Fisichella, lapping in 1m20.215s to be 15th, while Giancarlo Fisichella was clearly not giving it 100% as he'd had to go out in the spare car after engine failure, ending up 17th with a best lap of 1m20.976s.

Likewise, Justin Wilson put one over his Minardi team-mate Jos Verstappen to be 18th, his car looking considerably better handling as he lapped in 1m22.104s, with the Dutch veteran's wayward car taking 1m22.237s for its tour.

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