Motor Racing: Barrichello's quick time casts a spanner in the works: Jordan-Hart's Brazilian beats Schumacher and Hill to the overnight pole as Alesi is left fuming after scrap with Brundle

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The Independent Online
JUST when it seemed one of those listless days, a hangover from the mayhem of the recent past, the first qualifying session for tomorrow's Belgian Grand Prix here lurched beyond the rev limiter.

Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian expected to join McLaren-Peugeot at the end of the year, bludgeoned his way past the championship contenders, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill, to give himself and the Jordan-Hart team their first provisional pole position.

As the Silverstone-based crew celebrated, down at the other end of the pit lane Ferrari's Jean Alesi was throwing his helmet to the ground and forcing his way through a guard of McLaren personnel to confront Martin Brundle.

The raging Sicilian-Frenchman hurled abuse and wagged his finger at the Englishman, claiming he had baulked him and denied him the chance of pole. Brundle, maintaining his composure, argued that he, too, had been on his last lap, endeavouring to improve his grid position. Alesi finished fifth, his adversary 13th.

Barrichello had no such problems, beating the chequered flag to signal the end of qualifying by 10 seconds and attacking a drying track on slick tyres. He completed the lap in 2min 21.163sec, 0.3sec faster than Schumacher's best. Eddie Irvine, in the other Jordan, was fourth, sealing the team's finest qualifying performance.

Eddie Jordan, the team principal, said: 'We were lucky, but our engineers made the right decision at the right time. To get pole is down to everyone here being very bright and the driver being very strong and skilful.'

It may all change in today's final session, of course, but Barrichello, 22, already rated by many the second most gifted driver after Schumacher, has further enhanced that growing reputation.

Schumacher felt he could have secured that top position but for spinning his Benetton-Ford on his final lap, and he can anticipate a familiar head-to-head with the Williams-Renault of Hill if conditions this afternoon are dry.

Alesi, unlike Hill, was one of those who managed to get out on slicks for the frantic closing exchanges. To his dismay, he found Brundle, still on wet-weather tyres, in his path. The subsequent escapade provided a rare racing spectacle, the pair stubbornly vying for the optimum piece of tarmac on this majestic circuit. Alesi eventually bullied his way in front, but for each driver the prospect of a faster lap had evaporated.

They continued their sparring on the slowing-down lap and Alesi vented some of his anger with a deafening, smoky wheel-spin outside the McLaren garage. Before Brundle had removed his helmet, Alesi was before him.

Brundle said: 'He was angry but I was angry, too. It was his last lap and my last lap. He was quicker than me on the straights but slower in the corners. He should have backed off but expected me to get out of the way. I'm not here to please Jean Alesi.'

Hill is still hoping to demonstrate his value as a title challenger to Schumacher, despite the 31 points between them. The German could have a two-grand prix suspension confirmed by FIA's court of appeal on Tuesday and Hill is seeking 'three perfect results from three races' to sustain his ambition.

Hill's partner, David Coulthard, stalled as he went out on slicks and was left in seventh position. Mark Blundell, in a Tyrrell-Yamaha, was 12th, and Johnny Herbert, in a Lotus-Mugen, was 20th.

BELGIAN GRAND PRIX (Spa-Francorchamps) First qualifying times: 1 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 2min 21.163sec; 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 2:21.494; 3 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 2:21.681; 4 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Hart 2:22.074; 5 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 2:22.202; 6 J Verstappen (Neth) Benetton-Ford 2:22.218; 7 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 2:22.359; 8 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot 2:22.441; 9 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes 2:22.634; 10 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 2:23.326; 11 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 2:23.895; 12 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell- Yamaha 2:24.048; 13 M Brundle (GB) McLaren- Peugeot 2:24.117; 14 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork- Ford 2:25.114; 15 A de Cesaris (It) Sauber-Mercedes 2:25.695; 16 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault 2:26.044; 17 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault 2:26.079; 18 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford 2:26.738; 19 P Alliot (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 2:26.901; 20 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda 2:27.155; 21 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 2:27.212; 22 E Comas (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 2:28.156; 23 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 2:28.979; 24 J-M Gounon (Fr) Simtek-Ford 2:31.755; 25 P Adams (Bel) Lotus-Mugen Honda 2:33.885; 26 B Gachot (Bel) Pacific-Ilmor 2:34.582; 27 P Belmondo (Fr) Pacific-Ilmor 2:35.729; 28 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford 16:56.162.

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