Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher showed his return to form when he stormed to a Ferrari 1-2 to take pole position for Sunday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Schumacher, who had a disappointing 2005 season, equalled the late Ayrton Senna’s record of 65 pole positions on Saturday by setting the fastest time in qualifying ahead of his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa of Brazil.
The German timed one minute and 31,431 seconds to edge Massa by less than 0,1 seconds.
”I’m very proud [to equal the record],” said Schumacher. ”To be honest, I didn’t expect it and I think to be here on the front row is very nice, especially after we had not good times last year.
”We knew Felipe was going to be quick — it is why we signed him, so it is nice to see him up there. He is very quick.”
Massa was delighted with his first front-row start.
”It’s a fantastic feeling — the team did a great job in the winter,” said Massa. ”We performed much better with a heavy fuel load and it all went really well for me.
”It’s the best way to start the championship — second place and fighting for first. I hope I can do this many times.”
Jenson Button was third fastest for Honda, ahead of world champion Fernando Alonso’s Renault and the McLaren-Mercedes of Juan Pablo Montoya.
Montoya’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen crashed in the first 15-minute session and the Finnish star will start from the back of the grid.
Button said: ”It’s great to be third. It’s been a hard winter and it’s a nice reward to get here. It shows we really are on the pace.”
German Nick Heidfeld (28) made it a good debut for BMW Sauber as he qualified 10th on the grid.
But he almost did not make it, as he lay 16th during the second knock-out session when, with just eight seconds remaining, he set the fourth-fastest time to knock his teammate Jacques Villeneuve (34) out of the top 10.
Canadian Villeneuve will therefore start 11th, ahead of the other drivers knocked out in session two, including German Nico Rosberg and Red Bull’s David Coulthard — who qualified ahead of both Toro Rosso cars.
Alonso was fastest in both of the knock-out sessions to determine the 10 fastest cars to go through into the final 20-minute session.
Williams’ debutant Rosberg missed his chance to compete in the top-10 run-off when he spun into a tyre barrier at turn 10 during the second session.
Raikkonen (26) will start 22nd after he almost flipped on his first lap out of the pits. He was approaching turn nine of the Sakhir circuit on his first lap out of the pits when his rear wing flew off, damaging the right-rear suspension and forcing him off the road.
He drove the car back to the pits but the McLaren team were unable to repair the car in time for him to complete a lap in remainder of the session. He was therefore eliminated from the rest of qualifying and will start last for Sunday’s race.
Toyota’s Ralf Schumacher was the highest-placed driver to be knocked out in the first session and will start 16th. — Sapa-AFP