Michael Schumacher put his Ferrari on the pole for the first United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis and added a little more pressure on Mika Hakkinen in their duel for the Formula One championship.
The German driver, who goes into Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two points behind two time defending world champion Hakkinen, earned his seventh pole of the season and the 30th of his career in Saturday’s qualifying on the new 2.606-mile (4.193-kilometer), 13-turn road circuit.
With a few drops of rain falling early in the hour-long session and a bank of dark clouds threatening heavy rain, Schumacher and the rest of the contenders got up to speed quickly.
Schumacher took the early lead with a lap of 1 minute, 14.492 seconds, Midway through the session, he went out with Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello and, as the two took turns drafting off each other, lowered the fast time to 104.266.
With just enough time left to get in one hot lap, Hakkinen — who was second at 104.428 — and McLaren-Mercedes teammate David Coulthard took to the track for one last shot at Schumacher.
The Finn let Coulthard draft off his car on the long straightaway at the start of the final lap and the Scot came within 0.126-seconds of knocking Schumacher off the top spot. But, in doing so, Coulthard also bumped his teammate back to third.
That didn’t seem to bother Hakkinen, though.
“I was not concerned about that, to be honest. The starting grid is on old tarmac,” said Hakkinen, referring to the first part of the circuit, which is actually part of Indy’s 2.5-mile (4.0-kilometer) oval. “When you do the start, you can lose traction going over the little bumps. So it’s not so bad starting on the second row after all.”
Asked about the pressure of trying to hold off former champion Schumacher with three races remaining, Hakkinen said, “It’s always very difficult. In 1998, it was the first time and it was just marvelous.
“When I started in 1999, it was even harder because you already knew what to expect and how hard it would be to handle everything as the season went on. Now it’s tough again on me and for all of us on the team. But there are 17 races you have to fight through and this is just one of them.”