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Raikkonen retains pole, but the heat is on

NEWS STORY
22/05/2005

How wonderful that, providing sanity prevails, and that there is no threat from typhoons in Japan, this will be the last Sunday qualifying session of 2005. Which thereby allows us all to have a little longer in bed, in preparation for the race, and puts more emphasis on Saturday.

The proposed format isn't perfect, far from it, but it's a step in the right direction.

Whatever happens in today's session, several things are guaranteed. Narain Karthikeyan loses ten grid spots following an engine change - which on current pace puts him - 8, while Ralf Schumacher and great friend Juan Pablo Montoya will form the last row.

Ralf is there because he crashed on Saturday, thereby failing to post a time, while Juan Pablo is there as punishment for his ludicrous behaviour during the second free practice session, when he was adjudged to have brake-tested his former teammate, causing a collision that involved the German, as well as Coulthard and Villeneuve.

With less than a couple of minutes to go, the air temperature is 22 degrees, while the track temperature is 25 degrees.

First out today will be Ralf, though it is unlikely that he will actually bother completing a 'flying lap' since it won't affect his grid position.

At 10:00 precisely, the German leaves the pits. Sure enough, at the end of his 'out' lap he pulls into the pits.

Next out is Narain Karthikeyan in the Jordan. The Russian-owned team is under pressure, having been out-qualified by Minardi yesterday. He doesn't nip back into the pits, choosing to continue and set a proper time. However, the car is all over the place, a real handful. At the line his aggregate is 2:43.442.

Next out is teammate Tiago Monteiro, who has been the quicker Jordan driver for much of the weekend. Again, it's a scrappy lap, more due to the car than the driver. At the first split he's 0.3s down, however he pulls back time in the second sector. At the line it's 2:43.078, provisional pole.

Christijan Albers is next, he too is under pressure from his teammate. At the first split he's 0.5s up on Monteiro. At the second split he's 1.1s up on the Jordan, the Minardi actually looking good. At the line it's 2:42.206.

Next is the ever-improving Patrick Friesacher. At the first split the Austrian is 1.2s up on Albers, unbelievable. At the second split he 1.6s to the good, however he's a little too enthusiastic and almost hits the barriers. At the line it's 2:40.810, a brilliant lap, under the circumstances. Messy, but good.

Next out, after the break, will be Tonio Liuzzi, who will be keen to keep Friesacher behind him.

At the first split the Italian is 2.2s up on Friesacher, but he appears to be over-driving the car, pushing a little too hard. At the second split it's 2.7s, but he goes oh so close to the barriers, it's heart in mouth stuff. At the line it's 2:37.152. Phew!

Now it's the turn of Felipe Massa, what can he do? At the first split the Brazilian 0.8s up on Liuzzi, much as you'd expect. At the second split the Sauber star is 1.7 to the good, finally crossing the line at 2:35.120, a good lap.

All eyes on Michael Schumacher, who needs to do something superhuman, again. At the first split the German is down on Massa's time, clearly he's running a heavy fuel load. At the second split he's up on the Sauber, but it's marginal. At the line the seven-time World Champion posts 2:34.736 to go quickest.

Teammate Rubens Barrichello is next out, can he out-qualify his teammate? At the first split he's up on Schumacher, but it's tight. At the second split the Brazilian is 0.1s down on his teammate, locking up heavily at Rascasse. At the line it's 2:34.983, which is only good enough for second.

Now it's the turn of Jacques Villeneuve, who is still smarting from yesterday's incident with Montoya. At the first split the former World Champion is 0.2s up on Schumacher. He maintains the pace, completing the second sector 0.1s up on Schumacher. However he loses time in the final sector and can only manage 2:34.936, which puts him second, splitting the Ferraris.

At the second break, it's Schumacher, Villeneuve, Barrichello, Massa, Liuzzi, Friesacher, Albers, Monteiro and Karthikeyan, with Ralf failing to post a time.

Next up is David Coulthard, twice a winner here, and a man destined to drop his trews should he make it on to the podium today. At the first split the Scot is 1.0s up on Schumacher, using all his experience of this most demanding of circuits. At the second split he's 0.8s up on the German. At the line the Red Bull star posts 2:33.867, a good lap from the veteran F1 star.

Next out is Jarno Trulli, who really does need to make up some grid spots. At the first split the 2004 winner is 0.3s up on Coulthard, going on to increase the 'gap' to 1.0s at the second. At the line the Toyota star posts 2:33.590, a great lap that gets him provisional pole.

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