Ralf Schumacher claimed a confident pole position in qualifying for the French Grand Prix and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya lined up alongside for another all Williams front row. Three poles from the last four races is making Ralf look mighty good;...
Ralf Schumacher claimed a confident pole position in qualifying for the French Grand Prix and teammate Juan Pablo Montoya lined up alongside for another all Williams front row. Three poles from the last four races is making Ralf look mighty good; his best today was 1:15.019, with Montoya just a tenth shy. Michael Schumacher was the only one who could challenge the leading pair but had to settle for third, while Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello was a distant eighth.
Jenson Button set a 1:17.077 on his lap but times in the low 1:16s, high 1:15s were more what was to be expected. Fernando Alonso took provisional pole with a much more realistic 1:16.087, despite the Renault going quite wide at the chicane.
Ralf was fourth out and had a near-enough perfect lap; fast, controlled, determined, he made it look easy. 1:15.019 was his time and it proved unbeatable. Kimi Raikkonen was marginally slower in the first two sectors and went second, half a second down. Jarno Trulli, who had a throttle problem in warm up, took third just two hundredths ahead of teammate Alonso.
Montoya got the closest to Ralf's time, one tenth down, and David Coulthard put his McLaren just behind teammate Raikkonen for fourth. Giancarlo Fisichella had a difficult time, nearly two seconds off the pace by the middle sector and the Jordan got a bit out of shape at Imola. He managed eighth.
Amusingly, Jordan found a novel way of getting round the tobacco advertising ban in France: by playing Scrabble with its sponsor's name. Simply dropping a few letters from Benson and Hedges made the logo words: "Be on edge." One cannot help but admire Eddie Jordan's chutzpah.
Michael Schumacher had a very good lap to get himself ahead of the McLarens but Barrichello was mysteriously off the pace. The Brazilian finished over a second off Ralf, compared to Michael's four tenths. Cristiano da Matta was the first Toyota on track and the first of half a dozen runners who squabbled over ninth and tenth places.
Da Matta took ninth, Heinz-Harald Frentzen eleventh, then Mark Webber took ninth. Jacques Villeneuve, Antonio Pizzonia and Olivier Panis all took tenth on their respective runs. Panis looked to be heading for interfering with the Renaults but had a very poor last sector, which dropped him back.
Nick Heidfeld had a mediocre run but did manage to slot into 15th ahead of Sauber teammate Frentzen and Ralph Firman scraped by a lowly 18th on his lap. Final man out, after the glories of yesterday, Jos Verstappen reverted to his usual position at the back, 19th ahead of teammate Wilson. Hardly unexpected but still a bit of a shame.
Williams was on the ball and is heading into tomorrow's race with another front row lock-out and a lot of confidence. And well they should be -- but it's by no means a given they will triumph. Raikkonen and especially the two Renaults have been known to fly off the line, although Michael is not a fantastic starter. However, Schumacher Senior has other weapons in his armoury, as we all know. The fight for the first corner will be an interesting one. Final top eight classification: R. Schumacher, Montoya, M. Schumacher, Raikkonen, Coulthard, Trulli, Alonso, Barrichello.