BARCELONA: World champion Michael Schumacher gave Ferrari's new F2003-GA a dream start here yesterday as he claimed provisional pole in the opening qualifying session.
The German driver finished the morning practice in 15th but underlined the pace of the new F2003-GA car on its debut by setting the pace at the Catalunya circuit.
The five-time champion finished 0.019 seconds ahead of Renault driver Jarno Trulli, with Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello third to complete a positive start for the Italian team.
Trulli had threatened to deny Ferrari top spot but failed narrowly in attempting to lower Schumacher's best, while Barrichello ended 0.088 behind his team-mate.
Brazilian rookie Cristiano Da Matta produced his best qualifying performance in only his fifth race when he surprisingly drove his Toyota to the fourth best time of the session.
BAR-Honda driver Jenson Button took fifth after a flawless drive, as Toyota's Olivier Panis and Mark Webber of Jaguar claimed sixth and seventh respectively.
McLaren pair Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard could only set the eighth and ninth quickest times, with Spaniard Fernando Alonso completing the top 10 in his home race.
Raikkonen, the championship leader, posted the first time with a lap of 1:17.862, with Coulthard, the next man on track, almost two-tenths of a second slower.
Michael Schumacher, driving the F2003-GA for the first time, underlined its potential as he went 0.732sec quicker than Raikkonen.
Alonso was unable to better the times of either of the trio, but crossed the finish line to complete his lap to loud support from a packed grandstand.
Barrichello, the fifth man out, was just eight-hundredths of a second slower than his teammate as the new car made a positive debut.
Williams driver Ralf Schumacher, quickest in first practice, made a mistake during the early stages of his run costing him vital time as he ended 1.279 seconds down on his brother Michael.
Giancarlo Fisichella, of Jordan, was unable to do any better than Ralf Schumacher and Williams’ Juan Pablo Montoya could only finish 1.477 seconds off the best time.
Under-fire Jaguar driver Antonio Pizzonia set the 13th best time, one place better than Montoya, but was more than half-a-second down on his team-mate. – AFP