BARCELONA: Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello gave Ferrari's new car the perfect debut as they secured the front row positions on the grid here yesterday for the Spanish Grand Prix as drivers’ championship leader Kimi Raikkonen and his McLaren Mercedes team rued a poor day.
World champion Schumacher produced the goods with the final lap of qualifying to take pole from Barrichello on the debut of the new F2003-GA car at the Circuit de Catalunya.
The German's record at the Spanish track has been impeccable with four wins and never a finish outside the points and he claimed his fourth consecutive pole position at the track with a time of 1:17.762.
The German, fastest in Spain for the fourth year in a row, powered around the circuit in 1:17.762s, 0.258 ahead of teammate Barrichello.
“We knew there was a good opportunity for us because the car is better than last year's,” said Schumacher.
Spain's Fernando Alonso was third quickest for Renault, ahead of his Italian teammate Jarno Trulli, much to the delight of an army of flag-waving fans from his home city Oviedo.
“The feeling is very special here in Barcelona to be fighting with the top teams,” said Alonso, who has twice finished on the podium this season. “Tomorrow we have a very good chance to score many points.”
Raikkonen, meanwhile, failed to set a time and will start from the pitlane for the second time in five races after running wide into a gravel trap.
The young Finn started from the pitlane in the action-packed Australian season opener and still came third. His mechanics can work on his car overnight and refuel it whereas rivals are bound by parc ferme conditions.
“If you look at the points situation, obviously that is an opportunity for us,” said Schumacher of Raikkonen's position.
McLaren team boss Ron Dennis said that it was not a particularly good qualifying session for his team. “It was disappointing for us. David Coulthard is well placed, but Raikkonen made a mistake and had to pay for it. It will be very difficult for him to get to the front, but he will have to fight.”
Raikkonen has 32 points, 13 ahead of Coulthard.
Schumacher is third with 18 points. McLaren have a convincing 25 points lead in the constructors’ standings from Renault.
Briton Jenson Button was fifth quickest for BAR ahead of Toyota's Olivier Panis, now the only driver on the grid to have outqualified his team mate in every race.
Toyota's Brazilian Cristiano da Matta, fourth in Friday's opening qualifying, was 13th.
Ralf Schumacher was seventh for Williams and starts alongside Briton Coulthard. Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya's Williams was on the fifth row with German Heinz-Harald Frentzen in a Sauber.
Ralf Firman was 15th fastest while Giancarlo Fisichella, winner of the shortened Brazilian Grand Prix after a timekeeping error was discovered, managed only 17th place. – Agencies