Ralf beats weather - and BAR - to pole position
A fantastic Japanese Grand Prix is in prospect, after a topsy-turvy qualifying session at Suzuka, which started out wet and later became soaked.
Ralf Schumacher will start from pole position for Toyota after sliding his way round to 1m 46.106s just after the halfway mark, and he will have Jenson Button in the BAR Honda for company on the front row just to even out the Japanese manufacturers battle. The Englishman lapped in 1m 46.141s just after Schumacher Jnr had run.
What of McLaren and Renault? Well, Giancarlo Fisichella will start third after lapping in 1m 46.276s, and he was the last of the drivers on intermediate tyres to get their run in before the wet track became saturated when the rain returned.
Michael Schumacher was the first of the final quartet to go out, and by the time the Ferrari was up to speed its full wet tyres were throwing a roostertail all the way round the lap. The former champion lost a huge amount of time at the hairpin, and his lap came up as 1m 52.676s only moments after Fisichella had set his time. Fernando Alonso, next up, fared even worse, pushing the Renault to 1m 54.667s. Then Kimi Raikkonen did 2m 02.309s, but at least he will only lose three grid positions (from 17th to 20th) after his Friday engine change. Juan Pablo Montoya was the last man out as he was the victor at Interlagos, but only bothered to do one lap before coming back into the pits.
So if the two McLaren drivers and Alonso werent joining Fisichella on row two, who was? The answer was Christian Klien, who got his Red Bull round in a solid 1m 46.464s to dislodge local hero Takuma Sato, who had only moments earlier recorded 1m 46.841s to the delight of the large crowd. David Coulthard, who had set the pace as the first man out, will start sixth after posting 1m 46.892s in his Red Bull.
Mark Webber was on strong form for Williams with a lap in 1m 47.233s which also included the fastest sector one time up to that point, while Jacques Villeneuve coped with serious oversteer to grab eighth for Sauber in 1m 47.233s. Team mate Felipe Massa had the opposite problem with massive understeer on his C24, but the Brazilians 1m 48.278s held up for 10th place. They were split by Rubens Barrichello, the older Brazilian taking his Ferrari round in 1m 48.278s.
Narain Karthikeyan continued his excellent morning form by taking 11th place for Jordan in 1m 48.718s, and Antonio Pizzonias 1m 48.898s left him 12th. The Williams driver was lucky to get away with a spin at Degner 2 on his out lap.
Christijan Albers put his Minardi PS05 a very good 13th on 1m 50.843s, which put him on row seven with Schumacher Snr for company. Robert Doornbos was two seconds slower than his team mate but starts 15th alongside Alonso.
Degner 2 proved to be the demise of both Jarno Trulli and Tiago Monteiro. The Italian was going well when he lost control of his Toyota there, while Monteiro fell victim to the slippery surface there on his out lap. Trulli will start 18th, alongside Montoya, while Monteiro will share the back row with Raikkonen.
The weather forecast is for more rain tomorrow afternoon, so this will be a race in which anything can happen. But as Raikkonen, Montoya and Alonso seek to come from behind, Fisichella will have the burden of upholding Renaults quest to maximise this opportunity to regain their lost constructors championship lead. Button, meanwhile, will be looking for his and BARs first win, while Schumacher Jnr will be doing likewise for Toyota.