Coulthard relegates Hill to second
DAVID Coulthard confirmed his fourth consecutive pole position with the minimum of fuss yesterday when he upstaged Williams teammate Damon Hill and defending champion Michael Schumacher in final qualifying for today's Pacific Grand Prix in Aida, Japan.
The 24-year-old Briton, who had grabbed the overnight pole on Friday with the fastest lap in a keenly fought opening qualifying session, trimmed his time of one minute 14.182 seconds by nearly two-tenths of a second in the second and final session.
He ended up with a best time of 1:14.013 to prove he deserved his prime starting place for the race.
Hill made several attempts to outpace him but despite improving his own time he had to settle for second place on the grid for a race which is expected to settle the outcome of the drivers' championship.
German Schumacher, in his Benetton, also did his utmost to improve his time - often sliding across the sand and dirt-covered track - but finally had to settle for third position on the grid behind the Williams pair with Frenchman Jean Alesi alongside in fourth place in his Ferrari.
He improved his time only slightly to 1:14.284 with a fast lap in the final minute, but it was not enough to affect his starting position for the 83-lap race.
Schumacher, who has a 27-point lead over Hill in the drivers' championship, has to score only three points to secure his second successive title even if Hill wins.
If Hill fails to win, Schumacher will win the championship anyway.
Many of the drivers were preserving their tyres carefully for the race. Because of the low-grip conditions, it might be necessary to use at least four sets of tyres.
Coulthard, while delighted with his pole position and his improved time, said: 'It is important to have plenty of fresh tyres here and, in hindsight, I may end up regretting I went out for that extra run at the end.
'But it is good to have pole position here on such a twisty and difficult track.'