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Alonso takes record pole for Renault

By Alan Baldwin
March 22, 2003 16:10 IST
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Fernando Alonso roared into the Formula One records as the youngest driver ever to seize pole position as Renault took advantage of new rules to stun their rivals in Malaysia on Saturday.

Fernando AlonsoAlonso's flying lap made the 21-year-old, who will share Sunday's front row at Sepang with Italian team mate Jarno Trulli, the youngest to start on pole by six months and also the first Spaniard.

"To get a pole in the second race (with Renault) is an amazing feeling. The race is tomorrow but it's a good starting point. At the moment I am dreaming," said Alonso.

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello previously held the record with a pole for Jordan in Belgium aged 22 in 1994.

Alonso, tipped as a future winner in the mould of five times world champion Michael Schumacher, took pole in only his 19th race having failed to score any points in his career until the Australian Grand Prix of two weeks ago.

At the same time, and clearly on a lighter fuel load than his rivals, he dethroned Ferrari's Schumacher as king of the Malaysian Grand Prix grid.

The German, who was third in the new one-shot Saturday session, had previously been fastest in qualifying at every Malaysian Grand Prix since the first in 1999.

A thorough overhaul of the rules since the end of 2002, aimed at cutting costs and livening up the sport after a year of Ferrari domination, means that the fastest car is no longer necessarily the one starting on pole.

Refuelling is now banned between qualifying and Sunday's start and drivers aim for pole with varying fuel loads according to strategy.


Renault, with a strong chassis but an engine widely rumoured to be more than 100 horsepower down on the Ferrari engine, were clearly going to be heading for the pits soon after the start and possibly making an extra stop.

The times from Friday qualifying, when champions Ferrari were nearly a second quicker than their closest rivals, were likely to be a clearer indication of race form.

None of that mattered to the Renault drivers however after a result that would have registered high on the Richter scale of sporting shocks in previous years.

"It feels fantastic. For me it's a really special day, my first pole position, I'm 21 years old and it's my first year in a big team like Renault," said Alonso.

He set a fastest time of one minute 37.044 seconds, 0.173 faster than Trulli, with Schumacher starting last on a cooling track to clock 1:37.393.

"I'm quite happy for those guys, for their achievement," commented Schumacher. "It's one point. The other, we hope, is to have the right strategy and for it to pay out for us tomorrow.

"We have a very good car and therefore we have very good opportunities."

Asked whether the sport's governing body should make car weights available after qualifying to throw light on fuel strategies, Schumacher replied:

"I think it would be far too boring for you guys because then you couldn't do any speculation. Now you have room for speculation."

McLaren's world championship leader David Coulthard will start alongside Schumacher on the second row, with Barrichello filling the third row with Germany's Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld.

"We could have been quicker but probably not as fast as the Renaults," said Coulthard. "However we hope that their strategy will see them pit earlier than us and I think we can have a good race tomorrow."

Schumacher's younger brother Ralf, winner last year ahead of Colombian team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, provided another shock with only the 17th fastest time for Williams ahead of the Minardis and British rookie Ralph Firman in the Jordan.

Montoya, second overall after Australia, was eighth fastest.

"I shouldn't be three tenths away from my team mate," said Ralf, whose win a year ago was Williams' last. "It's clear that I have to get used to this new qualifying system."

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Alan Baldwin
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