NURBURG, Germany, AFP
Michael Schumacher held off the challenge of younger brother Ralf in official qualifying as the three-time world champion took pole position for the European Grand Prix on Saturday.
The older Schumacher had the fastest time in the trials for Sunday’s race with a stunning 1min 14.960sec lap at the Nurburgring, more than two seconds faster than last year’s top time.
It was the 39th career pole for Michael Schumacher and seventh this year in nine races.
Sunday’s race – 67 laps over the 4.556-kilometer Nurburgring in the forests of western Germany – was won in the rain by Michael Schumacher last year. Michael Schumacher’s best came after his brother Ralf seemed to have a lock on the pole with a fast 105.335 in his Williams-BMW early then improving it to 105.226 as Michael’s best was just 105.491.
With 20 minutes left Michael simply found a way to better his previous time by more than a half-second — a large margin even for a three-time world champion. Ralf’s 105.226 held up for second to make it the third time this year and second in a row the Schumacher brothers have occupied the front row, each time Michael first and Ralf second. They also did it at the Brazilian and Canadian Grand Prix races. Third went to the other Williams with Juan Pablo Montoya doing 105.490 and fourth came Rubens Barrichello in the other Ferrari, who clocked 105.622.
The McLarens were relegated to the third row with David Coulthard doing 105.716 ahead of Mika Hakkinen’s 105.776. However Michael Schumacher expects things to change in the race. “We have seen them struggling in qualify then being competitive in the race,” Michael said of the McLarens. Coulthard was responsible for nearly all the drivers cutting short their final runs. On his final effort, he skidded off the track, causing a cautionary yellow flag zone and forcing others to slow down. Then all the top drivers went back into the pits to save tires and engine wear.
Ralf Schumacher had led the morning practice session with 105.355 giving Williams hope for its first pole position of the season.
However Michael Schumacher said that he lost some time in practice and was still confident he could do better when he saw how close Barrichello was to his brother. Ralf knew it would be tough to stay ahead. “After practice I saw Rubens doing 105.8 and I knew Michael was going to be quicker,” Ralf said. Michael agreed, saying that the loss of time put him behind early.
“Not running the second part of the morning session made us below 100 per cent,” Michael said. “We made a setup up change which made us a little faster.” Ralf , who has two victories this year including the Canadian Grand Prix two weeks ago, had his contract renewed at Williams, the team announced Friday. He will stay on until at least 2004.
His 22 points put him fourth in the standings. Brother Michael leads comfortably with 58 points. Coulthard is second with 40. Barrichello is third with 24.