David Coulthard’s victory hopes suffered a massive blow after a nightmare time on the track in Austria today.
The championship contender could only qualify in seventh spot for tomorrow’s race on the A1-Ring at Zeltweg and he was still the best McLaren driver.
Team-mate Mika Hakkinen was one place further back as Ferrari’s title pacesetter Michael Schumacher celebrated his fifth pole in six races this season.
Coulthard knows his record of scoring a point in every race this year is now under threat while Schumacher has the perfect chance to extend his eight point advantage over him.
‘‘Tears are not going to help me improve my qualifying position,’’ said Coulthard, who was almost eight-tenths of a second off Schumacher’s pace despite being the fastest driver in practice.
‘‘The big advantage goes to Ferrari obviously, but we are not going to walk around with out bottom lip drooping.
‘‘I am very disappointed but we have got to sit down as a team and work out what went wrong and look at how we can improve things for the race.
‘‘We were actually slower in the afternoon than we were this morning. Clearly you can see the car is capable of going quicker.’’
Coulthard, who has finished second in the race for the past four years, added: ‘‘I hope to still get on the podium.
‘‘But I think from seventh on this track, with all those cars in front, it is going to be very difficult to overtake.
‘‘If we can come out of the race with a point or two, then that is probably the best we can hope for.
‘‘But many things happen at a grands prix. Cars do drop out, so it is not impossible to win from there.’’
Hakkinen was also at a loss to explain McLaren’s poor showing on a track where he has won in two of the last three years.
‘‘It is a disaster really,’’ said the Finn after his worst qualifying session of the season. ‘‘It is a big gap to the front.
‘‘I wish I could explain what has happened but it is too complicated.’’
Schumacher could now add another nail into Hakkinen’s title coffin if he can extend his already massive 32-point advantage over the two-time former champion.
The 32-year-old never looked in trouble during the hour-long session which did not really get underway until the midway point, giving McLaren no time to react when they hit problems.
Schumacher’s pole was his ninth in the last 10 races and the 37th of his career as he finished 0.1secs ahead of Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya.
The reigning champion’s only heart-stopping moment came when the Arrows of Dutchman Jos Verstappen spun just in front of him at the end of the session.
‘‘It was not a big drama with Jos because I could see him spin,’’ said Schumacher, who could now finally win on the only track on the current calendar where he has failed to do so.
‘‘I thought I could get past him and do another lap, but then it was going to be close so I went inside.
‘‘I was not told that the McLarens were struggling until after the end of the session.
‘‘They must have had a problem but they will get it right for the race. I am not going to discount them.
‘‘It is vital to get to the first corner first. If I can do that then I can force the others to do the race I want them to.
Montoya’s reward for out-qualifying Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher, who was third, for the first time was a maiden starting spot on the front row.
‘‘I have been looking to improve my qualifying performance and, though it’s not perfect, it’s getting better,’’ said Montoya, who could yet give Schumacher senior a fright at the first corner.
‘‘If I can repeat the start I had at the last race then it might pay off for me.’’
Brazil’s Rubens Barrichello was fourth fastest for Ferrari with Jordan’s Jarno Trulli fifth while Nick Heidfeld claimed a career-best starting position of sixth for Sauber.
Jaguar Racing’s Eddie Irvine qualified 13th for the fourth race in succession, while Benetton’s Jenson Button claimed an unwanted hat-trick.
Button finished 21st again, though believed he could have moved off the bottom row of the grid but for his front brakes locking up on his final run.
‘‘I was trying to get a tow from one of the Williams cars and that seemed to be working quite well,’’ said Button, racing having had another pain-killing injection in his injured shoulder.
‘‘But at the second turn I braked and the fronts just locked up and that was it. I went straight on and after that there was no point finishing the lap as it was obviously gone at that stage.’’