Mon, 07 Mar 2005

From: Reuters

Lucky Fisichella snags provisional pole

Alan Baldwin, Reuters, Melbourne, Australia

Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella took provisional pole for Sunday's season-opening Australian Grand Prix after the weather turned first qualifying into a lottery on Saturday.

While the Italian had all the luck, the heavens opening just as he crossed the line at the end of his timed lap, the rain poured on the hopes of Ferrari's seven times world champion Michael Schumacher.

Schumacher, utterly dominant in Melbourne last year when he won from pole position, was the slowest driver to complete a lap, behind even the two Minardis and 27.4 seconds slower than Fisichella.

With the starting grid now determined by aggregate times after a final session on Sunday morning, there was little chance of the German clawing his way back or of the top order changing much either.

"All I can say today is that we were unlucky," said Schumacher, whose team had to switch him hurriedly from dry to rain tires.

Toyota's Jarno Trulli joined compatriot Fisichella on the overnight front row, albeit more than two seconds off the pace, while Australian Mark Webber was third fastest but with a 3.5 second lag on the leader.

Canada's former champion Jacques Villeneuve was fourth for Sauber, despite spinning full circle on his warm-up lap, followed by the Red Bulls of Austrian Christian Klien and Briton David Coulthard.

Fisichella hit the jackpot, favored by the capricious Melbourne climate in a session that veered from bright sunshine to torrential rain and made just setting a time an achievement for some drivers.

Renault had been expected to be fighting for pole with McLaren after both impressed in pre-season testing.

However, McLaren's hopes were also hit by the weather with Finland's Kimi Raikkonen in 10th place and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya 11th.

Saturday's session was stopped briefly after Japan's Takuma Sato spun his BAR into a concrete wall on his warm-up lap, leaving debris on the track.

His British teammate Jenson Button, chasing his first win after finishing third overall in the championship last season, fared better with a provisional eighth place slot.

Brazilian Felipe Massa was a big loser, embarking on his qualifying lap immediately after Fisichella with dry tires that left him fighting to stay on the track. He gave up the battle and pulled over.

India's Narain Karthikeyan, his country's first grand prix driver, was in ninth place despite a spin.

"Qualifying was a bit tricky for the rookies today as it was so slippery," he said.

"I am happy with what I have done. Obviously I could have pushed a bit harder but I am learning step by step."