Juan Pablo Montoya took his fifth consecutive pole position in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, after a thrilling battle with Michael Schumacher that went right to the final seconds. Throughout the session Montoya traded pole with Michael and...
Juan Pablo Montoya took his fifth consecutive pole position in qualifying for the French Grand Prix, after a thrilling battle with Michael Schumacher that went right to the final seconds. Throughout the session Montoya traded pole with Michael and Rubens Barrichello: first Barrichello set the fastest time and in the following laps he, Montoya and Michael all took their turns to hold provisional pole more than once.
But it was the last timed lap that had the crowd on their feet. Montoya and Michael took to the track together for their final flyer, the Williams driver in front, the reigning champion just a couple of corners behind. As Montoya took a new lap record of 1:11.985, Michael threw the Ferrari round the final corners and everyone held their breath. He couldn't quite find that little extra and clocked a mere two hundredths of a second slower than Montoya.
Michael had two timed laps disallowed: the first he hit a kerb high and took to the gravel and cut the final corner, although he still managed to cross the line. The second he skipped a chicane and that lap time was also deemed faulty.
Barrichello held third while Ralf Schumacher never looked ready to join the battle for pole, settling for fifth. McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen kept himself on the pace, third until the final fight but he finished a good fourth -- outqualifying team mate David Coulthard again, the Scot sixth.
The unfortunate Arrows drivers took to the track at the beginning of the session but only to show their presence. Enrique Bernoldi and Heinz-Harald Frentzen both set a time but it was obvious they were not aiming to qualify at all: not appearing in the session could count as missing a race, which carries a heavy fine. Their times were easily, and intentionally, outside the 107%.
After Giancarlo Fisichella's horrendous shunt in morning practice he did not take part in qualifying. The Jordan driver's visit to hospital showed no serious damage but he reportedly cannot remember anything about the crash and has concussion. He returned to the circuit but was instructed not to drive today. It's yet to be seen if he will be fit to race tomorrow or even if he will be allowed to. Boss Eddie Jordan said the team would appeal for exceptional circumstances if Fischella is fit to take part in the race, to allow him to start from the back of the grid.
The sole Jordan of Takuma Sato put in a solid performance, staying in the top ten most of the session until dropping to 14th near the end. Renault took up their now familiar position behind Ferrari, Williams and McLaren, occupying the fourth row of the grid. Jenson Button outqualified Jarno Trulli for seventh -- Renault have a press conference scheduled for this afternoon to announce the driver line up for next year. It's widely presumed Button will be replaced by test driver Fernando Alonso.
The improvement of the day was Eddie Irvine, who qualified a surprising ninth. Jaguar were more competitive in practices and the Irishman set the sixth fastest time about half way through. Although he was pushed back a couple of places by others, it was still a great result. Pedro de la Rosa also ran well, despite a couple of incidents: his race car stalled at the pit exit and he took to the spare, which eventually stopped out on the circuit. He ended up in 15th.
Sauber had an unremarkable session, not seeming to have quite the pace they have showed previously. Nick Heidfeld managed the top ten in the final minutes, Felipe Massa twelfth. BAR had a steady time overall; Olivier Panis managed to grab eleventh in front of his home crowd, Jacques Villeneuve was thirteenth in an unexciting but reasonable result.
Toyota were a disappointing sixteenth for Mika Salo and seventeenth for Allan McNish. Salo said recently the team just couldn't figure out why they were quick at some circuits and not at others. Both drivers appeared to have a trouble free session, they simply weren't on the pace.
Minardi had a slightly elevated position due to the desultory effort by Arrows but they were still at the back. Mark Webber had a problem with his race car, which stopped on the track, and took to the spare. He qualified ahead of Alex Yoong, who at least got inside the 107%.
An eventful session for the top teams and a strange qualifying with three drivers absent: Arrows could hardly be classed as being involved. The Michelin runners again were dominant aside from the Bridgestone clad Ferraris but it remains to be seen if the Michelins can stay reliable in the race. Final top six classification: Montoya, M. Schumacher, Barrichello, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, Coulthard.