Rain arrives at bad time for top drivers
SUZUKA, Japan -- Rain soaked the track at the Japanese Grand Prix, leaving world champion Fernando Alonso and other top drivers at the back of the grid for Sunday's Formula One race.
The morning run was hampered by overnight rain, although conditions improved by the time qualifying started. But with 10 minutes left, heavy rain returned for the last four starters -- Alonso, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya.
The four drivers have won 16 of the 17 races this season. They will begin in the last half of the starting grid. Fair weather is forecast for race day.
"The weather decided it all today," said Montoya, who has won two of the last three races but didn't attempt a competitive lap Saturday. He was last out for qualifying and came into the pits after his warmup lap.
Toyota's Ralf Schumacher had the fastest lap just before the rain. He finished in 1 minute, 46.108 seconds in his Toyota for his sixth career pole and first since Canada in June 2004. In practice Friday, times were more than 15 seconds faster on the 3.609-mile Suzuka circuit.
Jenson Button of BAR-Honda was second at 1:46.108, and knew he and Ralf Schumacher were fortunate.
"It just started raining just after my run," he said.
Ralf's older brother Michael Schumacher, who won four of the last five races on this track in his Ferrari, was 14th on the grid in 1:52.676.
"The rain arrived just as I had to start my run, which meant I was too late to fit the extreme wet tires," he said. "So basically all I could do was swim for home."
Alonso's Renault teammate, Giancarlo Fisichella, was third at 1:47.276, and completed his lap seconds before the rain.
Alonso clinched the championship at the last race, becoming at 24 the youngest driver to do so. Raikkonen is safely in second place no matter what happens in the final two races.
Alonso leads 117-94, with Montoya third. Montoya has won two of the last three races. Raikkonen is tied with Alonso for race victories with six.
Alonso, Raikkonen and Montoya have the best cars and will be starting from the last three rows. Renault and McLaren are fighting for the constructors championships with McLaren ahead by two points.
Raikkonen finished in 2:02.309, but will start from the back of the field after a 10-spot penalty because of an engine change.
On Saturday, Alonso was 16th of the 20 racers.
"The circumstances were very similar to Australia where I qualified when the track was wettest," said the Spaniard, who was among the favorites at Melbourne but started 13th. "I just hope to do a good job like we did in Melbourne when I was able to come through the field [to finish third]."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press