Schumacher takes pole for French Grand Prix

Michael Schumacher took pole position for the French Grand Prix today after setting a time 25 minutes into the session that could not be beaten

Schumacher takes pole for French Grand Prix

Schumacher was nonchalant about his pole, taken after McLaren had dominated the bulk of the four free practice sessions before it. The German claimed not to be a particular fan of the Magny Cours track, where he has scored four wins, and now two pole positions.

"I'm not in love with the circuit," he said. "When it's hot it's very slippery and to be honest, a bit boring."

Track temperature was 28 degrees C at the start of the session, much hotter than for the previous sessions. It continued to climb sporadically throughout the qualifying hour.

Schumacher set the benchmark for the session with a lap of 1m15.632, which blew away the early efforts of his team mate Rubens Barrichello, to the tune of 0.6s. Barrichello's lap, set just seven minutes into qualifying, was pretty close to the money for the bulk of the one-hour session, and the McLaren drivers had to give their all to match the Brazilian - let alone the flying Ferrari team leader.

Schumacher's pole, the 27th of his F1 career, puts him just one behind the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio. If he should win tomorrow, he will tie Ayrton Senna on 41 victories - second overall in the rankings behind 51-times winner Alain Prost.

Once again, it was David Coulthard who took the fight to the Ferrari star. His team mate Mika Hakkinen appeared subdued once again, coming in fourth.

Michael himself seemed pushed to match his own lap - his next attempt at a flyer was aborted with the German 0.3s down on his own pole time at the second split. Schumacher, despite the apparent impregnability of the time, was clearly concerned that it might be challenged. David Coulthard's first flying lap was a full half-second slower than the provisional pole time, but this was enough to spur Schumacher into trying again.

Coulthard's challenge for pole appeared to be afflicted with the kind of luck that has seen the Scot lose a potential 12 points through various penalties already this season. Coulthard blew an engine in the second practice session, which necessitated a rapid change by the McLaren mechanics. With an oil pump problem also then discovered, the car was not ready to go by the beginning of qualifying, and Coulthard took his first two runs with the spare car, which had been hastily set up for him.

The car, emblazoned with 'Mika' on the sidepods, was apparently not quite as quick as the Scot's regular car, and he was unable to get within half a second of Schumacher. On his second attempt, the current championship runner-up was up on his own lap time, but baulked by Ralf Schumacher's Williams. In any case, Coulthard's race car was ready and he swept into the pits to change.

The next lap was, incredibly, slightly up on Schumacher's at the first split, but Coulthard contrived to spin on the exit of the Adelaide hairpin. Cue another aborted lap.

The last run was a sliver down on Schumacher's time in the first sector, and shaved inside the second sector time by four-thousandths of a second. Sadly, Coulthard was not quite able to maintain this gargantuan effort in the final sector and slipped to a tenth behind Schumacher.

"It's been an incredible two days and this session has been great practice for the mechanics," joked Coulthard after the session. "After having to run in the T-car, I was pleasantly surprised by the lap time. Time got a bit short at the end and had I had another lap, I think I could have gone a bit faster."

In the last few seconds, Rubens Barrichello was also on a flyer of a lap, and demoted Mika Hakkinen to fourth. This appeared to reinforce suggestions that Barrichello's confidence is building and that Hakkinen is unable to rekindle the superb qualifying form he has displayed in the past, albeit hopefully only temporarily.

Eddie Irvine was on the up after a couple of disappointing Grands Prix, holding a strong provisional fifth place for much of the session in the Jaguar R1. He was pipped by Ralf Schumacher late in the session, the German reclaiming his seemingly perennial fifth spot. Still, it was an immensely promising session from the driver branded as lazy by Jackie Stewart.

Jacques Villeneuve added to his recent impressive qualifying form with seventh overall. The BAR star was once again the luckier of the two team-mates as Zonta blew a Honda engine early on.

Jordan missed their chance to improve on eighth and ninth (with Frentzen ahead) after both drivers used up their allocation of laps with a substantial chunk of the session left to run. They were therefore left kicking their heels while the last flurry of quick times were set.

Hardest done by? Minardi never really got on the pace, having been unfortunate enough to miss the recent multi-team test due to an Italian transport strike.

Overall though, the qualifying was all about Schumacher and Coulthard - the German laid down the gauntlet and challenged allcomers to beat his time. Had Coulthard not suffered the problems he did, it might have been a straight fight. As it was, McLaren's rapid struggle to prepare the Scot's car, and his own scintillating effort on the track, was never a match for the serene and seemingly inevitable progress Schumacher made towards the front of the grid.

July 1, 2000

Pos, Driver, Car, time

M Schumacher, Ferrari, 1m15.632s
D Coulthard, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m15.734s
R Barrichello, Ferrari, 1m16.047s
M Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes, 1m16.050s
R Schumacher, Williams-BMW, 1m16.291s
E Irvine, Jaguar, 1m16.399s
J Villeneuve, BAR-Honda, 1m16.653s
H-H Frentzen, Jordan-Mugen Honda, 1m16.658s
J Trulli, Jordan-Mugen Honda, 1m16.669s
J Button, Williams-BMW, 1m16.905s
J Herbert, Jaguar, 1m17.176s
M Salo, Sauber-Petronas, 1m17.223,
P de la Rosa, Arrows-Supertec, 1m17.279s
G Fisichella, Benetton-Playlife, 1m17.317s
P Diniz, Sauber-Petronas, 1m17.361s
N Heidfeld, Prost-Peugeot, 1m17.374s
A Wurz, Benetton-Playlife, 1m17.408s
J Alesi, Prost-Peugeot, 1m17.569s
R Zonta, BAR-Honda, 1m17.668s
J Verstappen, Arrows-Supertec, 1m17.933s
M Gene, Minardi-Fondmetal, 1m18.130s
G Mazzacane, Minardi-Fondmetal, 1m18.302s

For qualifying results, click here.

For minute by minute coverage, click here.

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