| Michael Schumacher at a press conference in Melbourne Saturday. (Reuters)
Melbourne: World champion Michael Schumacher roared to pole position for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix as Formula One’s rules revolution threw up a familiar Ferrari front row sweep.
Schumacher, winner in Melbourne for the past three years, clocked a fastest lap of one minute 27.173 seconds under the new single-shot qualifying format to start the season just as he finished the last — leading the field.
Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, fastest in Friday’s opening session that determined Saturday’s running order, will start alongside his German teammate after lapping 0.245 slower on the decisive day.
After months spent rewriting the rulebooks in a bid to revive flagging television audiences and cut costs after a year of Ferrari domination, there was no change at the top.
The outcome left Schumacher, still using a version of last year’s all-conquering F2002 car, and the world champions as firmly in the driving seat as ever.
The gap between Ferrari and the rest remained huge, with Schumacher 0.928 of a second faster than third-placed Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya in a Williams.
“I don’t think anyone really expected a whole different scenario and Ferrari suddenly being in the middle of the field, although if you make a mistake it could easily happen,” Schumacher said.
Germany’s Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fourth in a Ferrari-powered Sauber with Toyota’s Olivier Panis fifth.
It was Schumacher’s 51st career pole, although qualifying is now about strategy more than pure speed with cars running on different fuel levels as a result of the new rules banning refuelling before Sunday’s start.
The pole was also five-time champion Schumacher’s third in a row after qualifying on pole for the last two races of 2002.