Michael Schumacher finished the opening qualifying session for Sunday's German Grand Prix down in ninth place, but admitted that his place in the running order had contributed to relatively slow time.

The Ferrari driver, running in front of his home crowd for the second time this season, had to go first in the single car qualifying session, owing to his position at the head of the world championship. However, whilst admitting that he had not put together the ideal lap, Schumacher also pointed to the support race practice sessions as a reason for his lowly position.

"This was not the best qualifying lap of my career, but it wasn't bad," he insisted, "The track was quite slippery because of the other cars which ran on it in between our two sessions, and resulted in the marshals having to clean the surface. Perhaps being first on the road this afternoon was a further slight disadvantage."

The world champion was quick to admit that Ferrari's regular rivals were looking stronger than they had at Silverstone last time out, after Williams-BMW ended the session occupying the top two places.

"Our competitors seem to have a very strong package over one lap," he said, before adding that 'we can be confident for the race, because we saw that our tyres performed very consistently in race trim with a heavy fuel load'.

Team-mate Rubens Barrichello was the first man not to go quicker than those ahead of him on the road, but admitted to struggling with the handling of his F2003-GA.

"This morning, I had a few problems finding the best set-up on the car and, although the situation improved for qualifying, it was not sufficient for us to be fighting for the top spots," he confirmed, "Also, on my timed lap, I made a small mistake in the third sector but, judging by what we have seen today, we do not seem to have the advantage here which we enjoyed at Silverstone."

"Ending the first qualifying session with our cars in eighth and ninth places is certainly not what we are used to but, today, the opposition proved to be very quick over
the single lap," team boss Jean Todt concluded, "However, we know that Friday's times are not necessarily representative of what we can expect on Sunday.

"Tomorrow, the choice of tyre type for the second qualifying session and the race will be crucial."

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