Schumacher, in a Ferrari, posted a 1min 20.974sec lap on the 4.73-kilometer circuit, averaging more than 210 kph
Schumacher takes pole for Spanish Grand Prix: Coulthard fourth

BARCELONA, Spain, May 6 (AFP) - On a track that everyone knew well Michael Schumacher found that little bit extra in Saturday's qualifying to bag his first pole of the year in Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix.

Schumacher, in a Ferrari, posted a 1min 20.974sec lap on the 4.73-kilometer circuit, averaging more than 210 kph.

Two-time world champion Mika Hakkinen followed with a 1:21.052, in a McLaren-Mercedes.

Schumacher's Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello was third in 1:21.416 with David Coulthard in the second McLaren fourth with 1:21.422 four days after his escape from a plane accident in central France.

"We will see what happens tomorrow," Coulthard said. "Don't forget I won the British Grand Prix where I also qualified fourth."

The top six drivers were within a second of the top. The next 12 drivers were also within a second of each other.

"It was very close today and if you get everything right then the lap would be good," Schumacher said.

The drivers know the Circuit of Catalunya almost too well. All the teams practiced extensively last week so a number of teams did not use all their practice laps, preferring to save tires and engine.

So the cars were finely tuned to maximize everything and just a little change of wind or a slight miscalculation on a turn would put the driver down on the grid.

Schumacher was the one that got it right.

"Pole position is nice but on the other side, the race counts," Schumacher said.

It was the 24th pole of his career, putting him in a tie with Hakkinen, Niki Lauda and Nelson Piquet for sixth place on the all-time list for pole positions.

But it was the German's first since the last race of the 1999 season, the Japanese Grand Prix. After missing six races because of a broken leg he came back to take the pole position in the final two races of last season but did not win either race.

Schumacher is anxious to see what he does from the front this year.

"Generally if you do a good start and you can lead the race and you can play your tactics from the leading position," Schumacher said. "But we have proven that we can win from behind. it's not necessary but it helps."

Hakkinen took the first three poles of the season before being edged by Barrichello at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago.

However Hakkinen is winless this year, dropping out of the first two races after starting from the pole.

"I'm on the front row so I'm confident," the Finn said. "But it will be difficult because the track is physically very demanding."

Hakkinen felt he had a chance to get the pole. "I didn't get a 100 percent clear run in the session until the final run," Hakkinen said. "I didn't really get a chance to optimize it."

All of the top drivers went out with less than two minutes left in a final attempt for a fast lap but only Hakkinen had his best lap at that time.

"We made a little adjustment for the last run which didn't go in quite the right direction," Schumacher said. He did 1:21.154 just before Hakkinen finished.

"The car was almost there but we couldn't quite get it the way I wanted," he added. "The increase in wind and temperature made it a bit more difficult towards the end."

Schumacher last won here in 1996 during a rain storm. It has been cloudy the past two days but showers are predicted for Sunday.

Hakkinen and Coulthard have finished 1-2 here the last two years with Schumacher third as the McLarens took advantage of the fast track with a long straightaway and wide sweeping curves.

Schumacher leads the drivers standings after four races with 34 points. He came in third behind Coulthard and Hakkinen in the British race.

Coulthard has 14 points while Hakkinen is third with 12 points.

Coulthard qualified fourth but also failed to better his time in the final run.

He was still bruised following his escape when he jumped out of a burning private jet that crashed and killed the pilot and the co-pilot in Lyon, France. Coulthard, his fiancee and fitness trainer all got out having only minor cuts and bruises.

Ralf Schumacher, Michael's brother, was fifth in a Williams-BMW, 1:21.605 and Jacques Villeneuve sixth in 1:21.963 in a BAR-Honda.

There was less than a second separating seventh-placed Jarno Trulli in Jordan-Mugen-Honda, 1:22.006, to 18th-placed Jean Alesi, 1:22.804.