Sun, Oct 08, 2006 - Page 23 News List

Massa bumps Schumacher off pole

AP , SUZUKA, JAPAN

Brazil's Felipe Massa steers his Ferrari ahead of Spanish Renault driver Fernando Alonso during qualifying for today's Formula One Japanese Grand Prix at the Suzuka Circuit in Suzuka yesterday. Massa took pole position and Alonso was fifth.

PHOTO: AP

Felipe Massa upstaged Ferrari teammate Michael Schumacher to take the pole position yesterday during qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Schumacher, with a possible Formula One title on the line in today's race, was second, while reigning world champion Fernando Alonso starts from fifth position.

Schumacher and Alonso are tied atop the driver's standings with 116 points after 16 races.

Schumacher, who will retire after this season, could wrap up his eighth world title if he wins today and Alonso drops out or finishes scoreless. Otherwise, the championship will be decided in the final race in Brazil.

Massa indicated he is open to helping Schumacher toward the world title without being ordered to by his team, which is prohibited.

"For sure I am open to Ferrari winning both championships. We are here for that," Massa said. "And I am working hard to achieve that."

The German can expect Massa to let him through for maximum points at one of the Ferrari great's favorite circuits, where he has won six times before.

"I'm pretty happy where I am and he did a great job," said Schumacher. "We are not fighting that much against each other, we are working together and therefore I'm happy it's him."

Schumacher leads Alonso 7-6 on race wins in the standings. The German driver drew even on points with his sensational victory in China last weekend.

Asked if he expected Massa to move over for Schumacher, Alonso had a simple answer: "Yes."

Alonso's Renault team is a point ahead of Schumacher's Ferrari outfit in the constructors' championship at 179-178.

"This result is okay, I think," Alonso said, trying to put a positive spin on the day's events.

"Of course the position is not ideal for the championship fight, but we have seen big turnarounds already this season. There is nothing to say it cannot happen again tomorrow," he said.

Schumacher didn't see things quite that way.

"We are looking strong, we are in the front row and the Renaults are in the third row," he said.

"It's been a great weekend so far for us," he said. "We are looking strong, we are on the first row and we have the Renaults on the third row and that's a very good starting place for the race."

Alonso should be able to keep the title battle alive until the race in Brazil on Oct. 22 but the Spaniard could do without having Schumacher's younger brother Ralf and Toyota team mate Jarno Trulli acting as a potential buffer between him and the man he has to beat.

Renault -- a point clear of Ferrari in the constructors' championship -- and partners Michelin were left reeling as the Bridgestone teams flexed their muscles on a sunny afternoon at the Japanese tire maker's home circuit.

Ferrari -- winners of six of the last seven races -- and Toyota both use Bridgestone tires, while Alonso was the leading Michelin driver.

"The weekend was supposed to be dry from today on ... so we are looking pretty confident in that area and we see on the Bridgestone side that we are very strong and so are the Toyotas," Schumacher said.

Alonso has his team mate Giancarlo Fisichella alongside in sixth place.

Honda's Briton Jenson Button and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello filled the row behind with Germany's Nick Heidfeld ninth in a BMW Sauber and compatriot Nico Rosberg 10th for Williams.

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