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Schumi sends message to rivals
March 21, 2003 16:27 IST
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher gave his Formula One rivals a wake-up call on Friday with a blistering lap in the first qualifying session for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
The five times world champion, pushed off the podium in Australia two weeks ago for the first time since 2001, screamed around the Sepang circuit nearly a second quicker than his closest non-Ferrari opponent.
His Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello, last out of the pit lane under the new single-lap format after being the first retirement in Melbourne, was second quickest to reassert Ferrari's authority.
Schumacher's lap of one minute 34.980 seconds was comfortably faster than his own 2002 pole time of 1:35.266 and left him well-placed to notch up a fifth successive pole position in Malaysia in Saturday's final shoot-out.
Barrichello's time was 0.701 adrift of the German, a two times winner in four races at Sepang.
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, in a Williams, was third quickest in 1:35.939 ahead of McLaren's young Finn Kimi Raikkonen.
McLaren's championship leader David Coulthard, winner against the odds in Melbourne, was first on the track but the Scot managed only the fifth best time.
Schumacher, ousted from the championship lead for the first time since September 2000, will be the last driver to start Saturday's session.
However tactics may yet force him out of the pole slot, with drivers likely to qualify with differing fuel loads as a result of a ban under the new rules on refuelling between the final qualifying session and Sunday's race.
The hour long session on a hot and humid afternoon saw no major incidents, with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve the under-performer of the day after losing the back end of his BAR under braking and finishing up 15th fastest.
To add to his discomfort, Briton Jenson Button -- the team mate he branded "weak" on Thursday -- was ninth.
Jaguar's Brazilian Antonio Pizzonia failed to turn out for the session after problems in morning practice.