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Saturday, October 31, 1998 Published at 06:38 GMT

Schu seizes pole for Japanese clincher

Cold comfort: Schumacher had pole in Hungary, Hakkinen still won

Michael Schumacher boosted his chances of stealing the World Championship title from rival Mika Hakkinen with a blistering drive for pole position in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix.

The BBC's Jonathan Legard: "Schumacher left McLaren scratching their heads again"
Hakkinen is second with a four-point advantage that will bring him the championship if the order remains the same when the drivers take the chequered flag at Suzuka.

Just 0.178 of a second separated the pair at the end of a gripping qualifying session that remained undecided until the very last lap.

[ image: Hakkinen: The
Hakkinen: The "macho" choice
Schumacher will be looking to Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine, who qualified fourth, to push Hakkinen down the order and deliver the German his third world title.

Hakkinen's McLaren team-mate David Coulthard took third place on the grid.

The 1997 Formula One season finished with an equally tight race which saw Schumacher crash out after a controversial collision with current champion Jacques Villeneuve.

'Play fair'

The German is under strict orders from Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo not to repeat the incident and to drive a clean race in Suzuka.

Should Hakkinen fail to finish, second place will be enough for Schumacher to take the title in a championship that saw him trail his Finnish rival by 22 points at one stage.

"Rain has taken the grip off, but the sun is shining now"
But Schumacher will be aware that he had pole in Hungary and still let Hakkinen through for his four-point lead.

The Swiss-based German took pole in Japan with a time of 1:36.293 which Hakkinen simply could not match, despite the best efforts of McLaren's mechanics.

Coulthard was more than a second down on Schumacher and Irvine nearly two seconds.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen was fifth for Williams, with outgoing team-mate and World Champion Jacques Villeneuve in sixth.

Former champion Damon Hill was eighth in the Jordan and Johnny Herbert joined the grid in the Sauber at a disappointing 11th.

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