Schumacher gains pole for Japanese GP

Michael Schumacher, looking for Ferrari's first driving championship in 21 years, took the pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix with the fastest time in today's qualifying. He edged rival Mika Hakkinen by .009 second.

Michael Schumacher, looking for Ferrari's first driving championship in 21 years, took the pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix with the fastest time in today's qualifying. He edged rival Mika Hakkinen by .009 second.

It was the 31st pole of Schumacher's career and eighth this season.

A Schumacher victory in Sunday's 53-lap race would give him the title to become Ferrari's first Formula One driving champion since Jody Scheckter in 1979.

"We obviously have the best position for the race and a competitive car to do that," Schumacher said.

Hakkinen in his McLaren-Mercedes needs a strong performance to preserve his chances for a third straight world driving title.

"Obviously I am a bit disappointed to be in second position," Hakkinen said.

If Schumacher doesn't win, there are still numerous mathematical possibilities open for him with points on a 10-6-4-3-2-1 basis.

Schumacher is eight points ahead of Hakkinen in the season's drivers standings. Schumacher last won the championship in 1994 and 1995 driving for Benetton.

Hakkinen earned the titles the last two years with victories in the last two Formula One races in this small town in central Japan. Both victories earned him the season title.

In qualifying Schumacher covered the 5.864-Kilometer (3.645-mile) Suzuka track in 1 minute, 35.825 seconds, averaging better than 220 kph (136.9 mph). Hakkinen's best time was 1:25.834 as the pair traded first over the last 20 minutes.

McLaren's David Coulthard was third at 1:36.236 and Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello was next in 1:36.330.

Those same top four drivers have monopolised the victories and pole positions in the season's 15 Formula One races.

In the last race, the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis two weeks ago, Hakkinen had to drop out with a flaming engine while Schumacher went on to win his second straight race and overtake the Finn for the season lead, who once trailed by 24 points.

After Sunday, the season ends on October 22 in Malaysia.

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