SEPANG: Favourites Ferrari delivered an ominous warning to their rivals that they mean business when both their drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello emerged first and second fastest in the first ever one-shot Friday qualifying session of the Petronas Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at Sepang F1 Circuit yesterday.
Schumacher, chasing an unprecedented sixth world title this season, was the only person to dip under the 1:35 seconds barrier. The 34-year-old German was the fourth to take his Ferrari out of the pits but he proved to be as hot as the scorching weather.
Schumacher clocked a blistering lap of 1:34.980, which eventually saw him topping the timesheets at the end of the one-hour session.
Brazilian driver Barrichello also played the perfect partner in the afternoon's hot and humid qualifying session.
Barrichello, designated to the last starting position here after his fifth lap retirement in Melbourne, completed Ferrari's magnificent run by clocking 1:35.681.
Ferrari were knocked off the podium for the first time in 53 races in Melbourne.
The strong performance from the Maranello outfit provides firm indication that they intend to return to their winning ways this Sunday.
William-BMW driver Juan Pablo Montoya secured the third fastest time of 1:35.939 while young Finn Kimi Raikkonen's flying lap of 1:36.038 gave him the fourth fastest time for McLaren Mercedes.
His McLaren teammate David Coulthard, winner of the opening round in Melbourne, got the qualifying session underway but his time of 1:36.297 were only good enough to put him fifth fastest.
But Schumacher was certainly sporting the broadest smile as he returns to his familiar starting place on the grid.
By setting the fastest time yesterday, Schumacher will go out last in the second qualifying run today.
“I had a great day today. I did not make any mistakes and the track was quite clean. We had a good set-up today, having made improvements to the car after the morning practice,” said Schumacher.
“Overall, I could not been happier with these conditions and our starting position. I just hope it does not rain (today),” added Schumacher, who will be hoping to preserve his perfect qualifying record in Malaysia today.
He has started on pole position in all previous four Malaysian GP.
Barrichello said the conditions were hot out there but he was not complaining.
“I feel good about it because we tried a lot of things. I am just happy to be on provisional front row,” said Barrichello.
Montoya said his car under-steered in yesterday's qualifying session and they hoped to address the problem today. “Ferrari are still quite a bit ahead but it is some comfort to be ahead of both McLarens,” said Montoya, who finished second in Melbourne. His German teammate Ralf Schumacher was also facing massive oversteer in the car and it prevented him from clocking a better position.
Winner of last year's Malaysian Grand Prix, the younger Schumacher only finished 13th fastest with a time of 1:36.805.
“I am not happy with my performance. In the morning's free practice, the car behaved well but not during qualifying. It will be quite a disadvantage as I have to start quite early tomorrow.”
Raikkonen, seeking to win his first Formula One race in his second full season for McLaren, said he was not really concerned about his performance yesterday.
“I made a small mistake in the last corner and lost some time. I also lost a bit of time this morning after I went wide during practice. So, I'm not really worried as tomorrow's (today's) session is when it really counts. Hopefully, I can put together a quick lap,” said the young Finn.
FRIDAY'S QUALIFYING TIMES
1: Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferari 1:34.980, 2. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 1:35.681, 3. Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW 1:35.939, 4. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 1:36.038, 5. David Coulthard (Gbr) McLaren 1:36.297, 6. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Renault 1:36.301, 7. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber 1:36.407, 8. Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Ger) Sauber 1:36.615, 9. Jenson Button (Gbr) BAR-Honda 1:36.632, 10. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:36.693, 11. Cristiano da Matta (Bra) Toyota 1:36.706, 12. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Jordan 1:36.759, 13. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW 1:36.805, 14. Olivier Panis (Fra) Toyota 1:36.995, 15. Jacques Villenueve (Can) BAR-Honda 1:37.585, 16. Mark Webber (Aus) Jaguar 1:37.669, 17. Ralph Firman (Ire) 1:38.240, 18. Jos Vestappen (Minardi) 1:38.904, 19. Justin Wilson (Gbr) Minardi 1:39.354, 20. Antonio Pizzonia (Bra) Jaguar (did not start).
7.30am - 8.30am: Formula One Paddock Club Pit Walkabout
9.00am - 9.45am: Formula One 1st Timed Session
10.15am-11.00am: Formula One 2nd Timed Session
11.10am-12.00noon: Formula One Paddock Club Pit Walkabout
12.30pm-1pm: Porsche Carrera Cup Asia Qualifying Session 2
1.30pm-1.45pm: Formula One Warm Up Session
2pm-3pm: Formula One Qualifying Session 2
3.30pm-4pm: Formula Malaysia Qualifying Session 1
4.30pm-5pm: Formula BMW Asia Race 1 (10 laps)
5.30pm-6pm: Formula Malaysia Qualifying Session 2