Seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher returned to the fore by claiming a record-breaking 66th pole position in Imola, Italy, on Saturday for the San Marino Grand Prix.
Ferrari driver Schumacher (37) set the standard in a time of one minute and 23,431 seconds to break the record of three-time drivers’ world champion Ayrton Senna that has stood since 1994.
A delighted Schumacher said: ”With the car we had, getting a pole was sort of obvious, but it is always great to start from pole.
”The record is less important for me — you look at records when you finish racing. I think we can show our very strong race pace.”
German Schumacher, who has won six times at Imola and is still looking for his first victory of the season, beat the Honda pair of Briton Jenson Button (26) and Brazilian Rubens Barrichello (33) by less than two-10ths of a second.
Button said: ”We’ve done a lot of work overnight and really improved. We needed to because we were quite a long way off yesterday [Friday].”
Ferrari’s pair came out early in the final 20-minute session to decide the top-10 starting positions for Sunday’s race and swapped the top spot between them before the rest of the major players took to the track.
But with the drivers scrambling for space on an empty track, nobody could touch Schumacher’s time.
His Brazilian teammate Felipe Massa (24) will start ahead of Spain’s world champion Fernando Alonso, whose Renault was next up.
Alonso’s Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella was a high-profile casualty of Formula One’s knock-out qualifying system.
Italian Fisichella (32) missed the cut for the top-10 shoot-out by just 11-1 000ths of a second.
And his chance of regaining a top-10 spot were ruined when BMW’s German driver Nick Heidfeld (28) crashed heavily exiting the Rivazza corner.
With yellow flags forcing drivers to slow down at the third gear right-hand turn, and only 52 seconds of the session remaining, Fisichella was knocked out.
His loss was McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya’s gain. The Colombian (30) switched to his spare chassis after his race car suffered an oil leak in practice.
Montoya avoided a 10-place penalty because his race engine was also transferred to the spare car, and he just made the cut in 10th place.
BMW’s 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve, Williams’s Nico Rosberg — who was using his spare car after a practice crash — Red Bull’s David Coulthard, Heidfeld and Toro Rosso’s Vitantonio Liuzzi were all eliminated at the end of session two.
There were no surprises in the first 15-minute session as Coulthard’s Austrian teammate Christian Klien missed the cut for the rest of qualifying by more than four-10ths of a second in 16th.
Behind him, the other five drivers eliminated were Toro Rosso’s American driver Scott Speed, the Midlands of Tiago Monteiro, from Portugal, and Dutchman Christijan Albers — who spun at Rivazza, and Super Aguri’s Japanese pair of Takuma Sato and Yuji Ide. — Sapa-AFP