Schumacher equals Senna's pole position record

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher secured pole position Saturday for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:39 IST
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Ferrari's Michael Schumacher secured pole position Saturday for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. McLaren Mercedes' Kimi Raikkonen retired from qualifying before he could complete a lap and will start from the back of the grid. Schumacher's 65th pole tied Ayrton Senna's record and led a Ferrari 1-2 for Sunday's race - 57 laps on the 5.417-kilometer (3.37-mile) Bahrain International Circuit. Massa in second place While Schumacher had 1 minute, 31.431, the German's new teammate, 24-year-old Felipe Massa, came next with 1:31.478. It was Schumacher's first pole since August 2005's Hungarian Grand Prix - his only pole last season. Schumacher finished the season a distant third, behind Renault's Fernando Alonso and Raikkonen. "It has been too long ago. Too much time ago," Schumacher said. "To be on front row and be so competitive is a nice surprise, particularly if you can imagine what happened last year. "When you have had such a story of success usually there is a downtrend and to move it back up to an uptrend is probably most difficult to achieve. It gives us extra motivation to keep on going." Button in third position Honda's Jenson Button landed third position with 1:31.549, while defending champion Alonso managed fourth with 1:31,702. Last year, Schumacher retired from the race and Massa's predecessor at Ferrari, Rubens Barrichello, finished ninth. "I am very happy to be inside the Ferrari team. I feel really comfortable," he said. "I knew from the first test I did I knew it would be more competitive for me to show what I can do. It definitely was a great start." In 2004, the first time Bahrain hosted the race, Schumacher secured pole position and won the race. In the last five minutes of Saturday's final qualifying session, Ferrari's German and Brazilian drivers entered what appeared to be a personal duel, each topping the other's time more than once before Schumacher came out on top. "It is an amazing result. All winter we knew we seemed to have a good package but then you wait for the final confirmation," Schumacher said. Schumacher was all praise for Massa. "It was very obvious right from the beginning that it was not without reason to take Felipe on board. We knew about his qualities and today he has proven it," he said. Season favourite Raikkonen, one of the favorites this season after finishing second in last year's championship, completed the first sector in the fastest time but lost a wing 10 minutes into the first qualifying session. He lost control of the car, which spun off, briefly went airborne and lost his right rear wheel, which remained attached to the car by wheel tethers. He drove back to the pit on three wheels. Last season, Raikkonen had several engine failures, which lowered his points tally and contributed to his finishing second to Fernando Alonso. Raikkonen was moved down the grid four times in nine races, and led three races before his car failed, once on the final lap. Button, who had the fastest practice time Saturday morning, said he pushed the car to the limit on his way to third position. "We pretty much got the maximum out of the car. It was a way to get the maximum out of the circuit than anything else," he said. New system Saturday's qualifying introduced a new system to even out competition and boost interest in the sport. Qualifying was held in three phases. The six slowest cars dropped out after the first 15 minutes, and six more departed after the next 15. The remaining cars competed in a 20-minute session for the top spots on the grid. Rule changes last season brought Ferrari back to the pack, with Alonso and Raikkonen pushing Schumacher to third place in the driver standings - his lowest full-season finish since joining Ferrari in 1996. He finished fifth in 1999 when he missed seven races because of a broken leg. The new system meant that, unlike previous seasons, Raikkonen's mishap meant McLaren-Mercedes did not get a chance to repair the car and give Raikkonen a second shot at securing a better time and challenge for pole. (AP)