MONTOYA HITS THE FRONT AGAIN Williams-BMW star Juan Pablo Montoya fought a thrilling pole position battle with Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at Magny-Cours -- and got the better of them once again to record his fifth...
MONTOYA HITS THE FRONT AGAIN
Williams-BMW star Juan Pablo Montoya fought a thrilling pole position battle with Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello at Magny-Cours -- and got the better of them once again to record his fifth consecutive Formula One pole position. His 1m 11.985s lap is the fastest ever seen at Magny-Cours and he beat world championship leader Schumacher by just 0.023s. Michelin drivers dominated the session and will occupy seven of the top nine places on the grid.
Michaël Schumacher had two of his qualifying times discounted -- firstly for running wide and missing out the last corner, secondly for cutting a chicane -- but neither would have been fast enough to usurp Montoya. If the Colombian wins tomorrow it will keep the world championship fight mathematically alive for at least one more weekend; victory for Schumacher could be enough to secure him a record-equalling fifth world title. Montoya said: "This was really a good qualifying, probably my best so far. Michelin has made a big step forward and has brought here some very consistent tyres which makes us confident for tomorrow race."
Barrichello qualified third, fractionally faster than rising Finnish star Kimi Räikkönen (McLaren-Mercedes/Michelin) and Montoya's team-mate Ralf Schumacher. "The tyres were working well and I can't see why that should not the case for the race tomorrow if the conditions stay the same." said Kimi. David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes) was sixth, ahead of Jenson Button (Renault, seventh), Jarno Trulli (Renault, eighth) and Eddie Irvine (Jaguar, ninth). The Ulsterman's team-mate Pedro de la Rosa qualified 15th after twice being forced to stop because of technical problems. He completed only one proper run.
Mika Salo (Toyota, 16th) was quickest of the remaining Michelin drivers, from Allan McNish (Toyota, 17th), Mark Webber (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 18th) and Alex Yoong (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 19th). Like de la Rosa, Webber had his session disrupted by technical problems and he completed only two runs.
Jordan-Honda driver Giancarlo Fisichella followed medical advice and did not take part in the qualifying session He was badly shaken when he crashed heavily at the high-speed Estoril corner during this morning's final free practice session. A hospital check-up revealed that he has no serious injuries but it is not yet known whether he will be given dispensation to race if he is passed fit.
The financially-straitened Arrows team finally ran for the first time this weekend. Drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Enrique Bernoldi completed only one installation lap during the morning, however, and then completed a single qualifying run each. Neither lapped with the mandatory 107 per cent of the pole position time and they have not qualified to take part in the race.
Michelin's day: Pierre Dupasquier (Motorsport Director)
Juan Pablo Montoya has just secured his fifth consecutive Formula One pole position after setting the fastest lap ever seen at Magny-Cours. You must be extremely pleased...
"It is a very satisfying result for two reasons. Firstly it proves that the package of Williams chassis, BMW engines and Michelin tyres is extremely effective -- and in Juan Pablo we have a driver who is capable of making full use of the material at his disposal. He did a fabulous job.
"Secondly, we have taken several pole positions this season with tyres that are relatively soft; it was nice to do it today with a compound that should provide very consistent performance in race trim. It is fair to say I feel quite optimistic about our prospects tomorrow."
Will both your primary (A) and option (B) tyre compounds be used in the race -- and what are the main differences between them?
"Both will be used and there should be an approximate 50/50 split among our partner teams. To be honest there is not a great deal of difference -- a matter of a few tenths per lap at most. The harder one will obviously be more durable, but from what we have seen the softer, option tyre should also provide consistent race performance -- certainly if you compare it to the much softer tyres we ran in Monaco and at the Nürburgring earlier in the year."
Have track conditions changed much since Friday's free practice?
"As usual that seems to be the case. The more time cars spend on the track, the more rubber they lay down. That gives us more grip and, with cars sliding around less than before, the rate of tyre wear decreases. I'm sure it will be different again for tomorrow's race -- and only when the chequered flag falls will we see which of our teams made the best tyre choice. At the moment their performance is too close for us to be sure which will prove most suitable."
You have picked up six pole positions this season but -- so far -- only two wins. Is that a huge source of frustration?
"I wouldn't say that. Rather, it has been a constant cause for investigation. The fact we able to produce such consistent qualifying speed without always being to repeat it in the race has taken us down some interesting technical paths and we are constantly analysing our products in an effort to improve. Believe me, if we win tomorrow we won't be sitting back on our laurels -- we'll be looking to do produce an even greater level of performance at Hockenheim next weekend."