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Schumacher on pole despite F1 changes
Alan Baldwin | March 08, 2003 13:16 IST
World champion Michael Schumacher roared to pole position for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix as Formula One's rules revolution threw up a familiar Ferrari front row sweep.
Schumacher, winner in Melbourne for the past three years, clocked a fastest lap of one minute 27.173 seconds under the new single-shot qualifying format to start the season just as he finished the last -- leading the field.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, fastest in Friday's opening session that determined Saturday's running order, will start alongside his German team mate after lapping 0.245 slower on the decisive day.
After months spent rewriting the rulebooks in a bid to revive flagging television audiences and cut costs after a year of Ferrari domination, there was no change at the top.
The outcome left Schumacher, still using a version of last year's all-conquering F2002 car, and the world champions as firmly in the driving seat as ever.
The gap between Ferrari and the rest remained huge, with Schumacher 0.928 of a second faster than third placed Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya in a Williams.
"I don't think anyone really expected a whole different scenario and Ferrari suddenly being in the middle of the field, although if you make a mistake it could easily happen," Schumacher said.
Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fourth in a Ferrari-powered Sauber with Toyota's Olivier Panis fifth.
It was Schumacher's 51st career pole, although qualifying is now about strategy more than pure speed with cars running on different fuel levels as a result of the new rules banning refuelling before Sunday's start.
"It is difficult to say on what position you really are as you do not know how much fuel everybody has taken for qualifying," Williams chief operations engineer Sam Michael said.
"I think it will turn out tomorrow that we are on a similar fuel level as Ferrari. Obviously we are still quite a way from them," he added.
The pole was also five times champion Schumacher's third in a row after qualifying on pole for the last two races of 2002.
On Friday, the German had run first, complaining of feeling like a street cleaner, but he had no worries on Saturday after taking Barrichello's settings.
Saturday's session was run with the fastest car from Friday's qualifying starting last and the slowest first and there were some surprises.
McLaren, tipped by some as Ferrari's closest challengers after impressive testing times, looked like being the biggest losers with Briton David Coulthard 11th on the grid and Finland's Kimi Raikkonen 15th.
Raikkonen, second fastest on Friday, had a disastrous run and had to fight to keep his car on the track after skidding wide.
He was still cruising round when Barrichello began his flying lap, an unwanted distraction for the Brazilian who was unable to push as hard as he might after coming out of turn six to see a warning flag.
"I'm sure some days you are going to blow it and end up 15th on the grid," said Montoya, whose team mate Ralf Schumacher was ninth fastest.
"It happened to Kimi today and it could happen to anybody."
Both the Minardis exploited the new regulations by failing to clock qualifying times.
Briton Justin Wilson and Dutchman Jos Verstappen both returned to the pits before the end of their flying laps and will start from the back of the grid.
However Minardi will not have to undergo the strict 'parc ferme' conditions which prevent refuelling and working on the cars overnight.