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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 October 2006, 06:04 GMT 07:04 UK
Ferrari duo leave Alonso trailing
Felipe Massa
Massa snatched pole in a session dominated by Ferrari
Ferrari's Felipe Massa took a surprise pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix to steal the spotlight from the battle for the world championship.

The Brazilian set a lap of one minute 29.599 seconds to beat team-mate Michael Schumacher by 0.112secs.

Schumacher's title rival Fernando Alonso of Renault was only fifth fastest behind the two Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli.

Jenson Button's Honda was seventh behind Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella.

Alonso was just under 0.8secs slower than Massa, and Ferrari's pace suggests the Spaniard will face an uphill battle trying to limit the damage to his title chances in the race on Sunday.

Renault appear to be at a tyre disadvantage to Ferrari, judging from the unusual pace of the Toyotas.

We are on the first row and we have the Renaults on the third row and that's a very good starting place for the race

Michael Schumacher
The Japanese team - keen to make an impression in their home race at a circuit owned by arch-rivals Honda - use the same Bridgestone tyres as Ferrari, while Renault are on Michelins.

Alonso's pace compared with the other Michelin teams is similar to at other races this season, but Bridgestone appears to have made a big step forward for Suzuka.

"It's been a great weekend so far for us," Schumacher said.

"We are looking strong, we are on the first row and we have the Renaults on the third row and that's a very good starting place for the race.

"The weekend was supposed to be dry from today on... so we are looking pretty confident in that area and we see on the Bridgestone side that we are very strong and so are the Toyotas."

Fernando Alonso
Of course the position is not ideal for the championship fight, but we have seen big turnarounds already this season

Fernando Alonso
Toyota's second-row sweep was the team's best qualifying result of the season and driver Ralf Schumacher pointed out how tyres had again played their part.

"With the clear help of our Bridgestone tyres, we were able to show that our car is a good car," said the German.

"We've obviously struggled for results in the second half of this season, but our car has improved a lot.

"I've always said that if we had a good weekend and the tyre is right then we could be heading for the podium.

Rubens Barrichello made it an all-Honda fourth row, finishing 0.586 seconds behind team-mate Button, while Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber was ninth.

In a testament to Bridgestone's dominance, even Nico Rosberg's Williams got in on the act, wrapping up the top 10.

But it was a miserable qualifying session for McLaren with neither Kimi Raikkonen - last year's winner at Suzuka - nor Pedro de la Rosa quick enough to make the final knockout stage.

Raikkonen was kept out by Barrichello, who clocked the 10th fastest time in the second session, while De la Rosa came in 13th with BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica splitting the two McLarens.

It was also disappointment for Mark Webber in the Williams, who was 14th, just ahead of Vitantonio Liuzzi in the Toro Rosso and Midland's Christijan Albers.

In the first phase of qualifying, David Coulthard was an early casualty, falling outside the 16 fastest drivers, while Super Aguri's Sakon Yamamoto failed to even notch up a time as his car came to grinding halt midway through his first lap.

Sunday's race will be the fifth time this season that Ferrari will cover both positions on the front row.

Alonso is level on 116 points with Schumacher with the German on top of the drivers' standings by virtue of having won one more race.

Schumacher could therefore win an eighth title this weekend should he win on Sunday and the Spaniard fail to finish in the points.


Qualifying positions for the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka:

1. Felipe Massa (Brz) Ferrari one minute 29.599 seconds
2. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:29.711
3. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:29.989
4. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:30.039
5. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:30.371
6. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:30.599
7. Jenson Button (GB) Honda 1:30.992
8. Rubens Barrichello (Brz) Honda 1:31.478
9. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:31.513
10. Nico Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth 1:31.856

Eliminated after second 15-minute session
11. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren 1:30.827
12. Robert Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:31.094
13. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren 1:31.254
14. Mark Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth 1:31.276
15. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1:31.943
16. Christijan Albers (Ned) Midland-Toyota 1:33.750

Eliminated after first 15-minute session
17. David Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:32.252
18. Robert Doornbos (Ned) Red Bull-Ferrari 1:32.402
19. Scott Speed (US) Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1:32.867
20. Takuma Sato (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda 1:33.666
21. Tiago Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota 1:33.709
22. Sakon Yamamoto (Jpn) Super Aguri-Honda


SEE ALSO
Renault criticise Massa tactics
07 Oct 06 |  Formula One
Japanese Grand Prix photos
07 Oct 06 |  Photo Galleries
Alonso hopeful of Renault revival
07 Oct 06 |  Formula One
Japan GP qualifying as it happened
07 Oct 06 |  Formula One


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