Sun, Mar 20, 2005 - Page 23 News List

Renault outpaces Ferrair in qualifying

MALAYSIAN GRAND PRIX World champion Michael Schumacher, so dominant last year, was back in 12th, two places ahead of Ferrari mate Rubens Barrichello


Renault's F1 driver Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy during the first qualifying round of the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang International Circuit on Saturday. Fisichella finished third in the first qualifying round.


Renaults were first and third in qualifying yesterday for the Malaysian Grand Prix, with Fernando Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella trading places from their podium performances in Australia two weeks ago.

The starting grid can still change before today's Grand Prix, with a second qualifying session scheduled for Sunday morning. Times from both runs are combined to determine places on the grid.

"I enjoy the Sepang track very much -- it suits me," said Alonso, who won pole position here in 2003 and had the quickest lap yesterday in 1 minute, 32.582 seconds. He was 0.09 ahead of Toyota's Jarno Trulli and 0.183 ahead of Fisichella.

"It's nice to be here again -- it means Renault is going well. I'm third quickest and considering that I made a couple of mistakes, that's not bad," said Fisichella. "We're still competitive. We can still fight to get on the podium and to win here."

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen was fourth, his 1:32.839 making him the only other driver to run under 1:33, while Ralf Schumacher was fifth in the other Toyota.

All cars were running light fuel loads and new tires Saturday, making the times extra slick.

Fuel levels will be higher today morning because no topping up is allowed between the second qualifying run and the GP.

"The times are closer than ever here in Sepang -- this makes the qualifying even more interesting for tomorrow," said Alonso.

The 23-year-old Spaniard's time for provisional pole eclipsed the 1:33.074 that Michael Schumacher set to take pole position here last year. Alonso slid off trying to corner too fast in qualifying here last year and said he'd learned from that, pushing his Renault enough "just to have a little gap" yesterday.

Trulli, who started on the front row of the grid in Australia but finished out of the points, dedicated his qualifying run yesterday to a friend who died in Italy on Friday in a helicopter crash.

He said his run proved that Toyota was as fast as the best, and he was confident that could be replicated over 57 laps in the GP.

"The car has been competitive, easy to drive. Hopefully it will be good, also in race pace," he said. "I'm a little more optimistic than I was in Australia because we have some new parts on the car," Trulli said.

Williams had sixth and eighth places via Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld, the BMW-powered cars split by McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya in seventh.

Yesterday's qualifying session didn't contain the drama of the season-opening run on March 6, when Michael Schumacher was caught in a downpour in Melbourne just as he started his flying lap.

Many of the top drivers following him at Albert Park were hampered by the wet conditions -- that happened just after Fisichella had recorded the fastest run. And he wasn't headed for the rest of the weekend.

Contrasting conditions from Melbourne, the 5.543km Sepang circuit was searing yesterday, with the track temperature topping 50?C and the air temperature above 37? C.

Schumacher, coming out in the unfamiliar position near the backmarkers, was 0.227 seconds off the pace.

Ferrari is using modified versions of its 2004 racers, with its 2005 model cars expected to be unveiled next month in Bahrain.

"Naturally, I'm not happy with he way things went," said Michael Schumacher. "It's clear that on a quick lap, our performance is not at the same level as our rivals, but we know that over a distances things are different -- and that's what counts."

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