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Schumacher keeps Ferrari on pole

Alan Baldwin | March 20, 2004 15:11 IST
Last Updated: March 20, 2004 15:46 IST


World champion Michael Schumacher swept to pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix on Saturday to underline Ferrari's Formula One supremacy.

The German secured the 57th pole of his career, second in a row and fifth in Malaysia since the first race at Sepang in 1999, with a lap of one minute 33.074 seconds.

Sunday's race could spring surprises but qualifying will have filled Ferrari's rivals with foreboding as they fight to turn a red tide that threatens to swamp the championship as surely as it did in 2002.

Ominously, for those hoping for signs of resistance, the German was 0.641 seconds faster than the man alongside him on the front row -- Jaguar's ever-improving Australian Mark Webber.

"We just got it spot on," said Schumacher, now just eight poles away from the Formula One record set by the late Brazilian Ayrton Senna. "We put pressure on the opposition but tomorrow will be a battle.

"It's going to be hard work in the heat but, other than that, I don't have any particular worries."

If there was no surprise to see the six-times champion dominant again after running away with the opening Australian Grand Prix, Webber's performance on a bright and sweltering afternoon was a bonus.

Sunday will be the first front row start of his Formula One career and, whatever the relative fuel loads, he relegated Schumacher's Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello to the second row.

"We are very surprised and pleasantly so," said Webber, still chasing his first podium. "We just stayed cool and waited for qualifying to come to us."

CLUTCH PROBLEM

Webber retired with a clutch problem in Australia and he recognised his Jaguar could struggle to threaten Schumacher's Ferrari.

"We need to prove ourselves in race conditions, which we haven't done yet," he said. "There's no car out there that's bullet-proof, especially in these conditions. Until I see the chequered flag, I won't be happy."

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya put his Williams on the second row alongside Barrichello but it was a disappointing day for Ferrari's traditional rivals.

Montoya's team mate, Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, was only seventh quickest.

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen, who celebrated the first Grand Prix win of his career in Malaysia last year on his way to finishing the season as overall runner-up, was fifth and joined the BAR of Briton Jenson Button on the third row.

Spain's Fernando Alonso, who led a Renault sweep of the front row with Italian Jarno Trulli last year and became the youngest driver to start on pole, had a nightmare.

Fastest in the first part to determine the starting order of the decisive qualifying, the 22-year-old skidded off and will start from the back of the grid.

The marathon session was earlier halted briefly after BAR's Japanese Takuma Sato skidded off.

Provisional grid positions for the Malaysian Grand Prix after Saturday's qualifying:
1. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari 1:33.074
2. Mark Webber (Australia) Jaguar 1:33.715
3. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Ferrari 1:33.756
4. Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia) Williams 1:34.054
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) McLaren 1:34.164
6. Jenson Button (Britain) BAR 1:34.221
7. Ralf Schumacher (Germany) Williams 1:34.235
8. Jarno Trulli (Italy) Renault 1:34.413
9. David Coulthard (Britain) McLaren 1:34.602
10. Cristiano Da Matta (Brazil) Toyota 1:34.917
11. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Sauber 1:35.039
12. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Sauber 1:35.061
13. Christian Klien (Austria) 1:35.158
14. Olivier Panis (France) 1:35.617
15. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) Jordan 1:36.569
16. Gianmaria Bruni (Italy) 1:38.577
17. Zsolt Baumgartner (Hungary) Minardi 1:39.272
18. Giorgio Pantano (Italy) Jordan 1:39.902
19. Takuma Sato (Japan) BAR No Time
20. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault No Time


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