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Barrichello on pole, Schumi last

Alan Baldwin | September 25, 2004 14:36 IST

World champion Michael Schumacher stumbled to a career low in qualifying for Sunday's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix as Ferrari team mate Rubens Barrichello powered to pole position.

The Brazilian's pole was his third of the season, and 12th of his career.

After speeding around the $325 million circuit in one minute 34.012 seconds, he watched in amazement as Schumacher went off at the first corner on his decisive lap after setting the fastest time in the previous session.

It was the worst qualifying performance of the German's 210-race career and he will have to start at the rear with the struggling Minardis and fight his way through the field -- not an impossible task.

"If you know me, I never give up," said Schumacher, who secured his unprecedented seventh world championship in Belgium last month after 12 wins in the first 13 races of the season.

"I'm Michael Schumacher. I don't need to test my driving ability, but it's certainly interesting to do what I have to do from where I am now."

Schumacher showed what he could do in Italy two weeks ago after spinning on the first lap and rejoining at the rear, roaring back to anchor the victorious Barrichello in an extraordinary home one-two finish at Monza.

The German also won for Benetton in Belgium in 1995 from 16th place on the starting grid.

RAIKKONEN CONFIDENT

Barrichello will share the front row with Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, winner in Belgium for McLaren, with Briton Jenson Button for BAR and Sauber's Brazilian Felipe Massa behind them.

"When he (Schumacher) spun, it was a shock," said Barrichello, who should mathematically clinch second place in the championship in Shanghai.

"Obviously he's going to have a tougher race but we've seen this year that (Giancarlo) Fisichella or Massa have started from the back and had really good races where they've finished in the top six.

"I guess the nature of the circuit will provide some overtaking and I think Michael still can be up there. Whether he can win the race or not is probably a little bit more difficult, but I wouldn't discount him."

Raikkonen, overall runner-up to Schumacher last season, was just 0.166 of a second off Barrichello's pace and sounded confident of doing well in a key race for all the major carmakers as they seek to impress a rapidly growing market.

"We have been pretty strong the whole weekend," he said. "I just made a small mistake on the last corner but I'm very confident for the race."

BAR and Renault are fighting for second place in a championship already won by Ferrari, with the Honda-powered team three points ahead.

Button's performance raised BAR's spirits after an engine failure in practice cost Japanese team mate Takuma Sato 10 places on the grid. Sato was ninth fastest but will be battling it out with Schumacher at the start.

Germany's Ralf Schumacher made a strong comeback after three months out following his big crash at the U.S. Grand Prix, qualifying his Williams on the third row alongside Renault's Fernando Alonso.

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, who will start his first race in almost a year as a replacement for Italian Jarno Trulli at Renault, qualified 12th.

Provisional starting grid for Sunday's Chinese Formula One Grand Prix:
1. Rubens Barrichello (Brazil) Ferrari 1:34.012
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) McLaren 1:34.178
3. Jenson Button (Britain) BAR 1:34.295
4. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Sauber 1:34.759
5. Ralf Schumacher (Germany) Williams 1:34.891
6. Fernando Alonso (Spain) Renault 1:34.917
7. Giancarlo Fisichella (Italy) Sauber 1:34.951
8. Olivier Panis (France) Toyota 1:34.975
9. David Coulthard (Britain) McLaren 1:35.029
10. Juan Pablo Montoya (Colombia) Williams 1:35.245
11. Mark Webber (Australia) Jaguar 1:35.286
12. Jacques Villeneuve (Canada) Renault 1:35.384
13. Ricardo Zonta (Brazil) Toyota 1:35.410
14. Nick Heidfeld (Germany) Jordan 1:36.507
15. Christian Klien (Austria) Jaguar 1:36.535
16. Timo Glock (Germany) Jordan 1:37.140
17. Zsolt Baumgartner (Hungary) Minardi 1:40.240
18. Michael Schumacher (Germany) Ferrari no time
*19. Takuma Sato (Japan) BAR 1:34.993
20. Gianmaria Bruni (Italy) Minardi no time

Note: Sato lost 10 places because of an engine change in practice.


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