Ralf Scores First Career Pole - French GP

Birthday boy Ralf Schumacher shattered the lap record and seized the first pole position of his Formula One career at the French Grand Prix on Saturday.

Ralf Scores First Career Pole - French GP

Birthday boy Ralf Schumacher shattered the lap record and seized the first pole position of his Formula One career at the French Grand Prix on Saturday.

For the third race in succession, the front row was kept in the family but this time older brother Michael could not match the Williams's turn of speed. But it was agonisingly close, with triple World Champion Michael's Ferrari crossing the line on his last flying lap just 0.01 seconds more slowly than Ralf's fastest time.

In Canada and at the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring last Sunday, Michael was on pole with Ralf second but this time the junior Schumacher gave himself a perfect 26th birthday present.

Ralf's time of 1:12.989 blasted aside the previous lap record of 1:13.864 set by Briton Nigel Mansell - also in a Williams - in 1992 qualifying. It also left him perfectly placed to get his own back by preventing Michael securing his 50th career win and sixth of the season on Sunday.

Michael won the last race in Germany after a veering start that left Ralf with no choice but to back off or risk a collision either with a concrete wall or his brother's car. Mansell still holds the race lap record of 1:17.070 but one or other of the Schumachers, if not Ralf's Colombian team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, looks sure to smash that on Sunday.

Montoya was sixth fastest in 1:13.625. Briton David Coulthard, 24 points behind triple champion Schumacher and second in the overall standings, was third fastest in his McLaren ahead of team mate Mika Hakkinen in fourth place. Jordan's Jarno Trulli shared the third row with Montoya.

Once again, the battle at the sharp end of the grid appeared to be mainly between Ferrari and Williams, who have won more races at Magny-Cours than any other team. Benetton, who had hoped long-awaited engine improvements would push them up the grid, fared little better than earlier in the season with Italian Giancarlo Fisichella 16th and Briton Jenson Button behind him in 17th place.

French veteran Jean Alesi gave the home crowd little comfort with only the 19th fastest time in a Prost.

Pos Driver Team Times 1. R.Schumacher Williams BMW (M) 1:12.989 209.670 km/h 2. M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1:12.999 + 0.010 3. Coulthard Mclaren Mercedes (B) 1:13.186 + 0.197 4. Hakkinen Mclaren Mercedes (B) 1:13.268 + 0.279 5. Trulli Jordan Honda (B) 1:13.310 + 0.321 6. Montoya Williams BMW (M) 1:13.625 + 0.636 7. Frentzen Jordan Honda (B) 1:13.815 + 0.826 8. Barrichello Ferrari (B) 1:13.867 + 0.878 9. Heidfeld Sauber Petronas (B) 1:14.095 + 1.106 10. Villeneuve BAR Honda (B) 1:14.096 + 1.107 11. Panis BAR Honda (B) 1:14.181 + 1.192 12. Irvine Jaguar Cosworth (M) 1:14.441 + 1.452 13. Raikkonen Sauber Petronas (B) 1:14.536 + 1.547 14. de la Rosa Jaguar Cosworth (M) 1:15.020 + 2.031 15. Burti Prost Acer (M) 1:15.072 + 2.083 16. Fisichella Benetton Renault (M) 1:15.220 + 2.231 17. Button Benetton Renault (M) 1:15.420 + 2.431 18. Verstappen Arrows Asiatech (B) 1:15.707 + 2.718 19. Alesi Prost Acer (M) 1:15.774 + 2.785 20. Bernoldi Arrows Asiatech (B) 1:15.828 + 2.839 21. Alonso Minardi European (M) 1:16.039 + 3.050 22. Marques Minardi European (M) 1:16.500 + 3.511 All Timing Unofficial

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