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Schumacher blasts to Australia pole
Alan Baldwin | March 06, 2004 11:16 IST
Last Updated: March 06, 2004 12:30 IST
World champion Michael Schumacher will start Sunday's Australian Grand Prix on pole position after Ferrari painted the front row red for the fourth year running.
Schumacher blasted round Melbourne's Albert Park circuit in a record time of one minute 24.408 seconds, a mere 0.074 quicker than his Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello.
It was the 56th pole of the German's career and a carbon copy of qualifying for last year's race, in which neither Ferrari driver finished on the podium.
"It has gone quite well for us," said Schumacher. "And we are not too surprised about it, simply because Australia has always been very good for us."
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya was third fastest alongside Briton Jenson Button in a BAR on the second row.
Montoya and Button had exactly the same time of 1:24.998 but the Williams driver was listed third after setting the fastest time in the first part of the new back-to-back qualifying format.
Spain's Fernando Alonso, in a Renault, and Jaguar's Australian hope Mark Webber filled the third row ahead of Japan's Takuma Sato in a BAR and Montoya's team mate Ralf Schumacher.
Last year's race winner David Coulthard, due to be replaced at McLaren by Montoya next season, blew his qualifying lap when he skewed wide on the final corner and bumped over the grass runoff.
Three times a winner in Melbourne, Schumacher's time on Saturday shattered the previous fastest qualifying lap of 1:25.843 set by Barrichello in 2002.
Montoya said his car had improved considerably since Friday's disappointing practice performance.
"It was a lot better. Traditionally Williams get to a circuit and take a bit of time to get everything working," said the Colombian.
"Our tyres always get better as the weekend goes on and it should be a good race.
"We've seen various races where we struggle on a Friday, on Saturday we just get there and Sunday we have a really quick car.
"Hopefully this is the case."
Former Ferrari test driver Brazilian Felipe Massa made a strong start on his return to Sauber, qualifying 11th and ahead of his team mate Giancarlo Fisichella in 14th place. The Italian made a big mistake on the first turn.
Austrian rookie Christian Klien failed to set a time in final qualifying after running wide and bouncing over the grass and gravel runoff.
The 21-year-old nursed his Jaguar back to the pit lane and will make his debut from the rear of the grid.
Minardi's Italian newcomer Gianmaria Bruni and Toyota's Olivier Panis did not start their second qualifying runs.
Provisional grid for Sunday's Australian Grand Prix after Saturday's qualifying:
1. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari one minute 24.408 seconds