Bridgestone's teams made a productive start to their final race weekend of the season, with sunny and dry conditions enabling them to push on with their tyre evaluation runs at Suzuka despite a relatively 'green' track early on in the day.

First qualifying resulted in reigning world champion Michael Schumacher posting the third fastest time of the session, just under two-tenths from the pole-sitting Renault of Jarno Trulli. The result sets the world champion-elect up for a good position in the running order for tomorrow's final qualifying, when he will be looking to at least match title rival Kimi Raikkonen.

"It was a relatively cautious qualifying today, but we're pleased with our positions which will determine tomorrow's final qualifying running order," Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn admitted, "We've still got some work to do in the morning before making our final tyre choice, but we're happy with the balance of the car and happy with the tyres. I can see us having a very competitive final qualifying and race."

Fellow Scuderia driver Rubens Barrichello was seventh fastest after over-running both the hairpin and the chicane, whilst Sauber's Nick Heidfeld also breached the top ten.

The Sauber pair were split by BAR-Honda's Takuma Sato, who impressed in his first qualifying session for the team, having got a last minute call-up to replace Jacques Villeneuve.

"No provisional pole for Michael today, but I expect him to show his true performance tomorrow," commented Bridgestone technical manager Hisao Suganuma, "He suffered a little having to run first on track, but there's still plenty of performance to come from our tyres yet, so I'm fairly confident for final qualifying.

"Both Sauber drivers and BAR-Honda's Takuma Sato did a good job, and I'll be expecting to see more from them tomorrow. The track was quite green this morning and, although this resulted in a little graining, I don't expect this to be a major factor this weekend. Aside from that, our teams had a productive morning as they started their tyre evaluation."



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