Barrichello storms to pole, Schumacher spins it all away
Michael Schumacher on the ninth row with Gianmaria Bruni's Minardi, and a Sauber on the second row - assuredly the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix will have an unusual look to it when the grid forms in Shanghai tomorrow afternoon.
Having dominated the final practice session Ferrari were expected to dominate qualifying too, and Rubens Barrichello duly wrapped up pole position with a lap of 1m 34.012s. But Kimi Raikkonen had got within 0.166s of the Brazilian in his McLaren by the time that Michael Schumacher went out for the final lap of qualifying, and everyone expected the champion to go a fraction faster. Instead, unthinkably, he spun in the first corner. Immediately the lap was lost, leaving him last on the timing screens and with the complexion of the race already changed completely.
With the front row comprising Barrichello and Raikkonen, the second sees Jenson Button starting in third place for BAR after recording a lap of 1m 34.295s, and Felipe Massa joins him after exploiting Bridgestones new tyre to maximum effect to squeeze 1m 34.759s out of his Sauber. It was the Brazilians best-ever qualifying result, and with Giancarlo Fisichella seventh on 1m 34.951s in the sister car, it was Saubers best qualifying performance of the season.
Between the two Swiss cars Ralf Schumacher continued his great recovery following his accident at Indianapolis in June by taking fifth spot with 1m 34.891s, and Fernando Alonso got everything together after some troubled practice to lap his Renault in 1m 34.917s for sixth.
Alongside Fisichella on row four is Olivier Panis, who was enjoying the behaviour of the Toyota TF104B and posted 1m 34.9754s, and Takuma Sato (1m 34.993s) and David Coulthard (1m 35.029s) round out the top 10 for BAR and McLaren respectively. Sato, of course, must drop ten places following his Honda engine change, who will hence start from the back row of the grid.
Juan Pablo Montoya was not happy with only 11th fastest time after pushing his Williams to 1m 35.245s, which just edged out the 1m 35.286s lap that Mark Webber had recorded earlier for Jaguar. Behind them, Jacques Villeneuve struggled a little on his way to 1m 35.384s for Renault on his comeback, and shares row seven with Toyota driver Ricardo Zonta, who lapped in 1m 35.410s.
Nick Heidfeld continued the strong form he showed this morning with 1m 36.507s for Jordan, beating Christian Klien (1m 36.535s) and team mate Timo Glock (1m 37.140s). Zsolt Baumgartner was the leading Minardi driver with 1m 40.240s after team mate Bruni spun on his lap. However, the Hungarian will takes 20th place on the grid due to an engine change, with the similarly demoted Sato for company on the back row. Their respective penalties elevate Michael Schumacher to 17th on the grid, with Bruni 18th.
If these things were choreographed, the grid could not be more perfect insofar as the Chinese people will enjoy the spectacle of Barrichello, Raikkonen and Button fighting for the lead as Schumacher begins a charge from the back. We wont know until the first round of pit stops precisely what fuel loads every driver was carrying, but the stage is set for the first Chinese Grand Prix to be an absolute sizzler.