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Schumacher Takes Pole for Japanese GP
Rain played havoc with qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix on Saturday, putting the top drivers of the season near the back of the pack and giving Ralf Schumacher his first pole position in more than a year.
Ralf Schumacher had a lap at 1 minute, 46.108 seconds in his Toyota for his sixth career pole and first since Canada in June 2004. In practice Friday, times were more than 15 seconds faster on the 3.609-mile Suzuka circuit.
Poor weather hampered the morning sessions after overnight rain soaked the track.
Conditions improved by the time the qualifying started, but with 10 minutes remaining, heavy rain returned, hurting the last four starters — seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, new champion Fernando Alonso, McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya. Between the four they have won 16 of the 17 races this season.
Michael Schumacher, who won four of the last five races here in his Ferrari, was 14th on the grid in 1:52.676. Alonso, who clinched the championship last race, was 16th of the 20 racers at 1:54.662.
Raikkonen finished in 2:02.309, but will start from the back of the field after a 10-spot penalty incurred because of an engine change.
Montoya, the last out, didn't even attempt a competitive time, coming into the pits after his warmup lap.
Jenson Button of BAR-Honda, who came in second at 1:46.108, acknowledged he and Ralf Schumacher were fortunate.
"We were very lucky, the both of us," Button said. "It just started raining just after my run."
Alonso's Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella was third at 1:47.276, and completed his lap seconds before the rain came for the final four drivers. Fisichella said he was prepared for the rain.
"In the morning I was fastest on the wet tires," Fisichella said.
The McLarens were hampered the most. Raikkonen's McLaren had yet another engine failure Friday during the first practice session, forcing another engine change and another 10-spot penalty.
It is the fourth time in the last nine races he has forfeited grid spots. Once he had the fastest time but started 11th.
He also led three races before his car failed, once on the final lap. Yet he has won three of the last five races.
Raikkonen's mishaps doomed his chances to take the Formula One title, which went to Alonso, the youngest driver to win the championship.
Raikkonen is safely in second place no matter what happens in the final two races. Alonso leads 117-94, with Juan Pablo Montoya in third. Montoya has won two of the last three races. Raikkonen is tied with Alonso for race victories with six.