Schumacher snatches pole from Barrichello

Michael Schumacher gave the best possible indication that his bid for the world championship is far from over by flying to a dominant pole position for the Italian Grand Prix. Team mate Rubens Barrichello was right behind the German, making it an all Ferrari front row

Schumacher snatches pole from Barrichello

Ferrari were never really threatened at the front of the grid and despite a last-gasp attempt from Mika Hakkinen, the Finn could not break the Maranello stronghold and finished in third place. McLaren-Mercedes team mate David Coulthard finished fifth behind the flying Jacques Villeneuve.

Hakkinen was far from on his best form. A lack of grip and an unidentifiable problem almost caused Hakkinen to jump into the spare car late in the session, until team boss Ron Dennis told him to stay put. The puzzled look on the Finn's face while studying the back end of Schumacher's Ferrari in Parc Ferme after the session spoke volumes.

"I got the maximum out of the car today," said Hakkinen. "I think from the way the car was handling there are areas where we could have been better. I believe there are things we can do to make things better for tomorrow."

Villeneuve was the surprise of the session and showed increasing speed throughout the qualifying hour. First man out on the track, the Canadian slowly moved his way up the grid with each run until a flying final lap 12 minutes from the end moved him into fourth spot.

"It feels great to be fourth," said Villeneuve. "The qualifying engine was strong and the car felt really well balanced. Hopefully we will be able to challenge for a podium finish tomorrow."

Villeneuve's highest ever qualifying position for BAR-Honda moved an unlucky Coulthard down to fifth. DC was unable to find his way through the qualifying traffic and the Scotsman's final lap was over almost before it had begun after an unaware Heinz-Harald Frentzen blocked him on the exit of the all-new Rettifilo chicane. The pair had clashed both in qualifying and in the race at Spa two weeks ago and in an ironic twist the German balked Coulthard's final attempt at improving on his fifth place.

With 10 minutes to go it looked as though Schumacher was going to have to settle for second place as Barrichello had put in a scorching lap of 1m23.797s and in doing so had set the fastest first section time of the weekend by some 0.3s.

"I think I just got lucky with the traffic," said a modest Barrichello. "I'm definitely much happier with the car both on full tanks and in qualifying."

Schumacher did not allow his team mate to bask in the glory for long and in predictably dominant style the German replied with a blistering 1m23.770s lap taking pole by a mere 0.009s. The double world champion was not infallible however, and like many others consistently out-braked himself going into the first chicane.

Jarno Trulli salvaged what was looking to be a dismal day for the Jordan team. The Italian had completed very few laps in the morning sessions and finished the last session before qualifying in 12th with team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen a lowly 19th. Both Mugen Honda-powered cars made it into the top ten however, and Trulli will start from a surprise sixth and Frentzen from eighth.

The Jordan pair are separated by the Williams-BMW of Ralf Schumacher in seventh. The Williams duo of Schumacher and Jenson Button had promised much in the morning running but when it mattered they could not find the speed.

Button had set the second fastest time in the first free practice session of the morning, but will start Sunday's race from 12th. The drop down the order was partly to do with a late leapfrog up the grid by the Arrows of Jos Verstappen and Pedro de la Rosa. Both had languished in the late teens for much of the session but a flying lap from de la Rosa with two minutes to go moved the Spaniard up to 10th spot and within a matter of seconds Verstappen joined him a place down in 11th.

A puzzled Mika Salo took 15th place one slot ahead of Sauber team mate Pedro Diniz having set a time in morning practice that was two-tenths faster than the Finn's qualifying time.

"I got the absolute maximum out of the car, and I don't really know why I wasn't quicker," said Salo. "I was quite lucky with traffic too this afternoon but on my last run I locked the front wheels momentarily going into the first corner. The car felt okay, but it just wouldn't go any faster."

Diniz said he was affected by balance problems under braking for the re-designed Rettifilo and della Roggia chicanes. The Sauber team also experienced the ongoing problem of not replicating Friday form come qualifying on Saturday.

"Things weren't as good for me today as yesterday, mainly because the car was a bit difficult under very heavy braking," said Diniz. "I was losing some time there and we weren't quite able to fix things in qualifying. Because of this problem I spoiled my last run when I ran wide in the first chicane."

Schumacher could not have hoped for a better scenario for the start of tomorrow's race. Provided the 'super-starters' Hakkinen and Villeneuve can be held at bay by team mate Barrichello all should be well. There is also the slight problem of the new, tighter first chicane which all 22 cars must safely negotiate when the lights go green.

"It's similar to Monaco, it's very tight," said Schumacher of the chicane. "Everyone has to be reasonable. Without discipline, we will have problems. There is the chance to get through without any incident - we have to wait and see..."

For full qualifying results, click here.

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