World champion Michael Schumacher claimed his first pole position of the season today with a blistering qualifying lap in oppressive heat at the Hungaroring.
The Ferrari driver has played second fiddle to a title battle between Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen so far this season but he put the two young pretenders in the shade in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
He produced a stunning lap of one minute 19.882 seconds to clinch an unexpected pole position by 0.0897secs from McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya.
History suggests today’s performance will be crucial for Schumacher, with the pole position man winning this race for the past four years on a track notorious for producing processional races.
Toyota have shown encouraging pace in practice and they translated that to qualifying speed this afternoon.
Jarno Trulli lived up to his reputation as a qualifying specialist to take third while Ralf Schumacher put in a ragged lap but was still on the pace and claimed fifth.
Kimi Raikkonen was forced to qualify first courtesy of his retirement in Germany last weekend but he fought hard to take fourth.
The Finn lost a certain win at Hockenheim but his troubles were not confined to Germany with his early qualifying slot costing him an estimated quarter of a second due to a dusty track at the beginning of the session.
Raikkonen, who was fastest in both this morning’s practice sessions, was just over a second off Schumacher’s pace but will line up ahead of world championship rival Alonso.
The Renault driver made a mistake on the last corner to run over the grass and drop to sixth.
Jenson Button will find the going tough if he is to repeat his German podium after setting the eighth quickest time this afternoon.
Button’s preparations for this weekend have been overshadowed by a contract row with Williams, for whom he is contracted to drive next year.
The 25-year-old wants to remain at BAR but ignored that distraction in qualifying today to give himself a strong chance of adding to his points tally.
David Coulthard made a slight error going into turn one on his fast lap, locking a brake, and he paid for that with a disappointing time.
The Scot will struggle to emulate his seventh place in Germany last weekend when starting 13th on the twisty Hungaroring and to make matters worse he was comfortably outqualified by team-mate Christian Klien by nearly half a second.
Tiago Monteiro will start from the back of the grid after pulling into the pits before his qualifying lap even began.
The Jordan driver gave ex-grand prix winner Johnny Herbert a start to forget in his new role as sporting relations manager while team-mate Narain Karthikeyan also disappointed.
The Indian was beaten by Minardi’s Christijan Albers and starts 18th.
Leading Final positions after Qualifying:
1 Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1min 19.882secs,
2 Juan Montoya (Col) McLaren 1:20.779,
3 Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:20.839,
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 1:20.891,
5 Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:20.964,
6 Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:21.141,
7 Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 1:21.158,
8 Jenson Button (Gbr) BAR 1:21.302,
9 Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:21.333,
10 Takuma Sato (Jpn) BAR 1:21.787,
11 Christian Klien (Aut) Red Bull 1:21.937,
12 Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Williams 1:22.086,
13 David Coulthard (Gbr) Red Bull 1:22.279,
14 Felipe Massa (Bra) Sauber 1:22.565,
15 Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Sauber 1:22.866,
16 Mark Webber (Aus) Williams 1:23.495,
17 Christijan Albers (Ned) Minardi 1:24.443,
18 Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) Jordan 1:25.057,
19 Robert Doornbos (Ned) Minardi 1:25.484,
20 Tiago Monteiro (Por) Jordan