Timothy Collings' Spanish GP Qualifying Report
Saturday May 6th, 2000
By Timothy Collings
Michael Schumacher secured his first pole of the season for the Spanish Grand Prix but then delivered a warning to rivals by saying he had been unable to produce his best during qualifying at the Circuit de Catalunya on Saturday.
The 31-year-old German, driving with caution and care, was quickest in the hour-long qualifying session with a best time of one minute 20.974 seconds which enabled him to survive a late challenge from defending world champion Mika Hakkinen in his McLaren.
The Finn, bidding for his fourth pole in five races, trimmed his time in the final seconds when Schumacher, who was also on the circuit, failed to improve. But it was not enough for him to overtake the German and he stayed in second place on the grid, just 0.078 seconds behind.
"It will be close and very difficult," said Schumacher. "Just look at the performances of the cars. There is nothing much between us. But I am pleased to be on pole because it is better to run at the front and dictate tactics than to do so from the midfield.
"At the start, I decided to do a run with two quick laps, but after that I switched to doing just one flying lap. The increase in the wind and the temperature made it more difficult towards the end."
Schumacher's pole performance was his first since the Japanese Grand Prix at the end of last year and the 24th of his career in his 133rd Grand Prix. It left him clear favourite to claim his 39th career victory and increase his commanding 20-point advantage over Briton David Coulthard in the title race.
Schumacher bristled at suggestions that he has recently been practicing his starts in an effort to make the most of good grid positions. "Why do you say that?" he asked. "And anyway, we have shown we can win races if we do not start from the front."
Apart from Hakkinen's late attempt to snatch pole, the session, run in dry and warm conditions beneath a cloudy sky, was relatively uneventful. But some forecasters were predicting rain for Sunday's race which would add an unpredictable element to what threatens to be a processional contest.
Hakkinen believes the race will be difficult for him. "It's going to be long and heavy for me, I know that," he said. "It is very difficult, not easy, to drive my car and it is very demanding. But I am much happier with the car than I was before, so things are getting better."
Coulthard Stays Cool
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello was third fastest in the second Ferrari. Like Hakkinen, he said that he had not enjoyed a single clear lap in qualifying.
He ended three-tenths of a second behind the Finn, but ahead of Coulthard who was fourth in the second McLaren just four days after escaping from Tuesday's air crash in France which killed the two pilots on his hired Lear jet.
Schumacher's 24-year-old brother Ralf was fifth fastest in a Williams ahead of Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, in a BAR with the two Jordans of Italian Jarno Trulli and German Heinz-Harald Frentzen in seventh and eighth positions.
"I never got the car right here for the whole lap," said Barrichello. "If I made it better in one section, it was worse in another. That is normal, but I expected to find a better compromise."
Coulthard, showing great self-control and typical coolness, said he had had hoped to qualify in a better position, but was slowed by a problem with his car's fuel system.
"We decided to run with a heavier than normal fuel load to contain the problem -- but let's see what happens tomorrow. Don't forget I won the British Grand Prix from fourth place on the grid."