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Schumi targets title from 14th place
Alan Baldwin | October 11, 2003 19:00 IST
Michael Schumacher will chase his record sixth Formula One title on Sunday from the lowest start position of his Ferrari career and behind championship rival Kimi Raikkonen.
But the German, who qualified 14th after a lap slowed by rain, was buoyed by a Japanese Grand Prix grid that saw Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello claim pole while McLaren's Raikkonen was eighth.
Schumacher needs just one point from the season-ending race at Suzuka to be sure of beating Argentine Juan Manuel Fangio's record and he will not even need that if Raikkonen fails to win.
The 23-year-old Finn suffered one setback when he crashed his car in free practice, taking team mate David Coulthard's for qualifying and the race, and another when the weather turned before his run.
"You can't change the weather," said the philosophical Finn, who had not given up his dream of becoming Formula One's youngest champion. "Eighth place is not ideal but it's still okay to try to do something tomorrow."
The last time Schumacher was so far down the grid was during his Benetton days when he started the 1995 Belgian Grand Prix from 16th position. But he still won that race and ended the year as champion.
Until Saturday, Schumacher had started the last five Japanese Grands Prix from pole position and has also won the last three.
"Michael's result was really due to the rain which was badly timed," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn. "His time was quite impressive considering how damp it was.
"With Rubens on pole and Kimi not so far ahead of Michael I think we could have a good chance of taking both championships."
"If I can win this one, then for Michael it is done," said Barrichello, who will be given free rein to go for the seventh win of his career.
The Brazilian will line up on the front row alongside Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, the Williams driver whose title aspirations ended at the last race at Indianapolis when the two collided.
Ferrari and Williams are fighting for the constructors' championship, with the Italian team three points clear.
"It's up to me to get ahead of Rubens, hopefully without touching this time," said Montoya, whose team mate Ralf Schumacher starts from the back row after spinning off the slippery track.
"It will be very difficult to overtake and it is going to be a tough race," said Ralf. "We need points for the constructors' championship and I'll fight hard."
Brazilian Cristiano da Matta gave Toyota a second row sweep with third place and French team mate Olivier Panis qualifying fourth.
That was their best grid showing since they came into Formula One last year and came at a circuit owned by rivals Honda as an added bonus.
Italian Jarno Trulli's hopes of a first pole were shattered after the Renault driver was fastest in Friday's first qualifying.
He failed to set a time in the worsening conditions, returning to the pits to save fuel after his warm-up lap.
"What can I say for Jarno? He must be the unluckiest man in Formula One," said Renault engineering head Pat Symonds. "In the space of 24 hours he has gone from being the fastest man out there to last on the grid through no fault of his own."