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Michael Schumacher has virtually given up hope of winning Sunday's Australian Grand Prix after a freak storm ruined his chances of qualifying near the front of the grid.

The World Champion finished 18th in Saturday's first qualifying session after he was caught in a torrential downpour the moment he drove his Ferrari onto the Albert Park circuit.

Schumacher's time of 1:57.931 was almost 25 seconds behind Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, who managed to set the fastest flying lap just moments before the weather turned foul.

The only drivers to finish behind the German were Japan's Takuma Sato and Brazilian Felipe Massa, both of whom failed to complete their laps.

"All I can say about today is that we were unlucky. The weather has so often played in my favour that I can accept it was not the case this time," Schumacher said.

"I had seen the rain clouds approaching and I hoped they would stay away a bit longer but it didn't happen and we only just had enough time to fit the normal rain tyres when extreme wets would have been a better choice."

Although there is a second qualifying session on Sunday morning, Schumacher said he was too far behind to bridge the gap, regardless of the weather.

The seven times World Champion also conceded that his chances of winning the opening race of the season were virtually over and the best he was hoping for was to finish in the points.

"Obviously this result will impact greatly on the race. At the same time we will try and bring home some points or even something better," he said.

"I don't think a podium is out of the question but it will be very difficult. Who knows what the weather will bring tomorrow. The race is long and all we can do is try our best to remedy the situation."

Less Important

Schumacher's Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello was also caught in the rain, though the conditions were slightly better, and he finished 12th, just behind the McLaren pairing of Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.

"It will be impossible to recover all the laptime we have lost today in tomorrow's session but we are still in good shape," Barrichello said.

"I think the new weekend format means that qualifying is less important in terms of its effect on the race and so I am still optimistic about our chances of getting a good result."

Ferrari team boss Jean Todt was also philosophical, saying luck had conspired against the Italian manufacturer and there was nothing they could do about it.

"The first qualifying session was turned into a lottery because of the changing weather conditions," Todt said. "Although there is a second session tomorrow, it is clear that today's result compromises our chances for the rest of the weekend.

"This state of affairs was down to chance and we can only accept the situation even though obviously we are not happy about it."

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