Sun, Mar 07, 2004 - Page 22 News List

Michael sets record in F1 down under

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX The six-time Formula One drivers' champion, Michael Schumacher, set the new mark for one lap, with Rubens Barrichello close behind

AP , MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello of Brazil during the qualifying session of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne, yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Michael Schumacher took pole position with a lap record and paced another Ferrari 1-2 finish in qualifying yesterday for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Schumacher and teammate Rubens Barrichello will line up on the front row of the grid Sunday after both going under the old record time on the 5.303km Albert Park circuit.

Six-time Formula One drivers' champion Schumacher set the new mark for one lap in Melbourne at 1 minute, 24.408 seconds, a fraction ahead of Barrichello in 1:24.482 in the second of Saturday's back-to-back qualifying runs.

Both were quicker than the record (1:24.718) Schumacher had set in free practice on Friday.

"I'm not surprised to be on pole -- I had a very good feeling with it," Schumacher, a three-time winner in Australia, said of the new generation F2004. "We have always been very strong in Australia ... [the car] did feel good for Australia."

Juan Pablo Montoya and BAR driver Jenson Button will start from the second row after both clocked 1:24.998 on their flying laps.

Montoya had the fastest time in his Williams-BMW in the first section of qualifying, ensuring he edged Button for No. 3 position.

"I was amazed with the time I set in the first qualifying, but then I tried too hard in the second and made a mistake on the third sector and lost the advantage," he said. "I'm confident for the race, because our package seems to improve throughout the weekend."

Button, tipped to replace Montoya at Williams next season when the Colombian leaves for McLaren, predicted BAR would be in the points this weekend.

"You never do a perfect lap but I'm happy with that," he said. "If we've got the reliability in the race that we should have, we're looking strong. A podium finish would be great."

Renault's Fernando Alonso was fifth, almost 1.3 seconds behind Schumacher, while his teammate Jarno Trulli was ninth.

Australian Mark Webber pushed his Jaguar into sixth place, while Japanese driver Takuma Sato got the second BAR car into seventh in 1:25.851.

Montoya's teammate Ralf Schumacher was eighth in 1:25.925 in the other Williams, while the McLarens were off the pace.

Kimi Raikkonen, second in the 2003 drivers' standings, was 10th and David Coulthard, 2003 Australian Grand Prix winner, cornered too wide coming out of the last turn, sliding onto the grass and getting his McLaren airborne before finishing in 12th place.

Coulthard started from the sixth row here last year after qualifying 11th, but still managed to take the checkered flag.

"Clearly we don't have the pace the others have at the moment -- we need to find that next step to take us into that front group," said Coulthard, a two-time winner at Melbourne. "This is not a great start to the season, we're not going to pretend otherwise.

"But a championship season isn't decided in one race."

The first running of the new qualifying format was unimpressive, with Toyota's Olivier Panis and Minardi's Gianmaria Bruni failing to leave the pits in the second qualifying stage and Jaguar No. 2 Christian Klien failing to complete a lap during a long lull in action. Friday qualifying was scrapped this year and replaced with two 50-minute sessions on Saturdays, with drivers allowed one flying lap in each.

The new "one engine per weekend" rules also limited the first qualifying run, with drivers cautious because engine changes will result in losing 10 places from the qualifying position on the grid.

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