Mika Hakkinen took pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix, edging out
team-mate David Coulthard as the McLaren's continued their early season
dominance.


Hakkinen was never headed during the one hour session, having assumed pole
position on his first flying lap. Subsequent improvements shaved almost a
second off his initial time, as Hakkinen re-established his position at the
head of the field.


Coulthard, too, was always destined for the front row, putting in a time
good enough for second place in the early laps. Pole position always seemed
just out of reach, however, as each time the Scot closed the gap, Hakkinen
would post a faster time. The final margin of eight-tenths of a second may
have flattered the world championship leader, but marked him out as a
likely race winner.


With many of the teams having tested at Barcelona throughout the winter,
there was less experimentation with set-up than at the other circuits used
so far. Accordingly, many teams lined up two-by-two on the time sheets.
Benetton twins Alex Wurz and Giancarlo Fisichella fought tooth-and-nail to
come out on top in their inter-necine war, with the Italian eventually
pipping his rival on the last lap of the session. Wurz, however, maintained
his good performance record this season, and looked most likely to take the
fight to the McLarens throughout the session.


Both were beaten, however, by Michael Schumacher. The Ferraris looked to be
struggling early on, but Schumacher - in company with team-mate Eddie
Irvine - crept up the leader board before the German put in a time good
enough for third overall. Irvine wound up sixth, sandwiching the
Benettons.


The British drivers cemented a strong qualifying with Johnny Herbert and
Damon Hill filling seventh and eighth places. Herbert had been as high as
second at one point, before many of the big guns came out to challenge his
time, but plugged away to get quicker as the session went on. Hill, too,
had featured in the top six, but was bumped by the Ferraris in the closing
minutes. The Englishman also had an interesting run in with Williams
replacement Heinz-Harald Frentzen. A brake test from the German in the
pit-lane was followed by an exchange of hand signals, before Hill later
accused Frentzen of spoiling his last flying lap.


Hill must have been glad that he was not still in a Williams, however, as
the reigning constructors' champions appeared to have lost the plot in
Barcelona. Planned changes to the difficult FW20 were delayed, leaving both
Frentzen and team-mate Jacques Villeneuve to fight off the likes of Jordan
and Prost instead of McLaren and Ferrari. The Canadian wound up 10th
overall after leaving the circuit on his final attempt, whilst Frentzen
languished down in 13th.


Both Williams cars were behind the resurgent Stewart of Reubens
Barrichello, which was improved by the introduction of the series four Ford
engine. Having finished the morning session inside the top six, Barrichello
featured as highly in the official times before slipping down the order in
the final minutes. Team-mate Jan Magnussen set the first flying lap of the
day, but could only finish 18th overall after problems on the spare
car.


Finally, Tyrrell's Ricardo Rosset became the first driver to miss the cut
this season, recording a time just one-tenth of a second outside the 107
per cent limit.

 

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