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Schumacher takes pole in Imola

April 23, 2006 13:54 IST

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher celebrated the 66th pole position of his career at the San Marino Grand Prix on Saturday to take a Formula One record from late great Ayrton Senna.

Briton Jenson Button, driving a Honda, joined the German on the front row while Renault's world champion and title front-runner Fernando Alonso could qualify only fifth.

Rubens Barrichello, third fastest for Honda, and Schumacher's team mate Felipe Massa filled an all-Brazilian second row.

Already winner of more races and titles than any other Formula One driver, Schumacher overtook triple champion Senna as the sport's most successful qualifier at the same circuit where the Brazilian died in 1994.

Senna's last pole was the day before that fateful race at Imola, won by Schumacher in a Benetton -- the first of his six victories at the circuit named after Ferrari founder Enzo and son Dino.

"The record is less important in a way, you look at it once you finish your racing and you may think about it, but not now," said the seven-times champion.

"But being here as an ambassador of San Marino, and getting a pole position for our tifosi (supporters) after all the pain they have had to go through in the last weeks obviously makes me very glad and very excited."


Schumacher had equalled Senna's pole record at the season-opening race in Bahrain but has not won a race since June last year -- and that was the six-car U.S. Grand Prix fiasco at Indianapolis.

Both he and Massa crashed out of the last Australian Grand Prix after repeated engine problems in Malaysia.

What had looked throughout practice as being a Renault-Ferrari battle, with Alonso and Schumacher set to repeat their epic nose-to-tail duel won by the Spaniard last year, suddenly looked more like a Ferrari-Honda face-off.

Button, who took the first pole of his career at the circuit in 2004 and finished second that same year, sounded more optimistic than he had all week.

"We've done a lot of work overnight and also during the day," said the Briton, who has yet to win in 104 starts. "And we've really improved it (the car) because we needed to, we were quite a long way off yesterday.

"I'm much happier with the car's a good start for tomorrow and hopefully we can make good use of it."

Alonso lines up alongside Toyota's Ralf Schumacher on the third row, with the McLarens of Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen behind.

"I don't think fifth is the perfect place to start at this circuit because overtaking is so difficult, but we are not in such a bad position either," said Alonso.

"The balance (of the car) is better than it was yesterday and feels correct for the race, so now we need to try and make up positions at the start."

The Spaniard's Italian team mate Giancarlo Fisichella failed to make the final cut for the decisive 10-driver shoot-out for pole, despite having a new and upgraded engine. He starts 11th.

Japan's Super Aguri drivers Takuma Sato and Yuji Ide qualified last with Ide clearly struggling to master the unfamiliar anti-clockwise circuit.

He lapped more than a second and a half slower than his experienced team mate.

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