Michael Schumacher takes fourth pole; traction control promises problems

Saturday, April 28th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) _ Ferrari's Michael Schumacher took full advantage of Formula One's new electronic traction control to claim the pole for Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.

Mika Hakkinen of McLaren-Mercedes switched his off to take the No. 2 spot.

McLaren teammate David Coulthard took third in Saturday qualifying and didn't know if the new high-tech electronic gizmos were completely on or off.

``There are so many things available to us and so many variations,'' Coulthard said. ``There's no way you can possibly understand it because we don't.''

Three-time and defending champion Schumacher claimed his fourth pole in five tries this season, clocking 1 minute 18.201 seconds on the 4.728-kilometer (2.938-mile) course. Hakkinen came through in 1:18.286 _ his final lap _ with Coulthard, who is tied with Schumacher for the season points lead (26), over the line in 1:18.635.

Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello took fourth (1:18.674) with fifth for Ralf Schumacher of Williams-BMW (1:19.016) and sixth for Jarno Trulli of Jordan (1:19.093).

Traction control returns to Formula One Sunday for the first time since 1993, largely because world motorsport's governing body the FIA could not police which teams were _ and weren't _ already using it.

Sunday should offer a brave new world at the Circuit de Catalunya with traction control (to reduce wheelspin), launch control (electronic starts) and fully automatic seven-speed gearboxes being thrown into the already high-tech mix of F1.

Glitches are being predicted.

``There could well be a lot of cars sitting on the grid tomorrow not moving anywhere because the system doesn't work quite the way we expect it to,'' said Coulthard, the only driver to reach the podium in the first four races.

``I feel confident. The only time you'll doubt the system is when it switches off in the middle of a corner and you'll be going backwards in the gravel. But until that happens, there's no doubt the system has certain advantages.''

``The biggest advantage is that at least you all know what everyone is running. There was some doubt over that in the past.''

Two-time series champion Hakkinen, who has only four points in four races and trails Schumacher and Coulthard by 22, needs a breakthrough Sunday or his season could be over. He turned off his traction control on the final and quickest lap and said he hadn't ``decided yet'' what he'll do Sunday.

``If you have some problems with the car in some corners, some you can fix with the throttle,'' Hakkinen said. ``Traction control doesn't let you do that in some places.''

``It's good, but it's early stages at the moment. There's a lot of things we can do to develop and make it better. So I'm confident, but obviously we have to wait and see.''

Schumacher expressed the most confidence in the system and sneered when it was suggested he was out of his slump. He won the first two races, was second in the third and dropped out two weeks ago in Imola with suspension and brake problems.''

``I haven't seen where we have been in a slump situation. The fact is we're back up where we want to be.''

``Tomorrow (Sunday) will be the first race under proper race conditions with all these new systems, so it will be quite interesting to see what is the effect and for whom,'' Schumacher added.

``I'm pretty confident. We have done a lot of testing with it.''

But he said he understood why Hakkinen switched his off.

``I could well see that you may get an advantage without it in qualifying, but then in the race I think it's another story.''

Spots seven through 10 on the grid went as follows: Jacques Villeneuve of BAR (1:19.122), Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Jordan (1:19.150), Kimi Raikkonen of Sauber (1:19.229) and Nick Heidfeld of Sauber (1:19:232).

Former CART and Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya of Williams, looking to complete his first GP race, was 12th in 1:19.660.

``I am very disappointed,'' he said. ``We had a huge improvement. ... The car was good, the time was there.''

Jaguar, which had some of the fastest times in Friday practice, slipped back with Eddie Irvine qualifying 13th and Pedro de la Rosa 20th. Spaniard De la Rosa is running his first race for Jaguar after being promoted up from test driver. De la Rosa got the spot when Luciano Burti moved this week to Prost. Burti qualified 14th.


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