MAGNY-COURS, France -- Juan Pablo Montoya is beginning to really like Saturday afternoons. For the fifth time in as many races he's taken pole position and, for the first time in a while, said he thinks he has the car to take the win in Sunday's...
MAGNY-COURS, France -- Juan Pablo Montoya is beginning to really like Saturday afternoons. For the fifth time in as many races he's taken pole position and, for the first time in a while, said he thinks he has the car to take the win in Sunday's French Grand Prix.
"I'm surprised to be on pole, to be honest," said the Colombian Williams-BMW driver. "We weren't really expecting it here. We were even concerned about McLaren before the start of qualifying and good enough, at the end, we're up here. It's a good starting point for tomorrow."
Montoya was the only driver to crack the 1 minute 11 second mark, his time a 1:11.985. Starting along side will be Michael Schumacher of Ferrari, who has a chance to clinch his record-tying fifth World Championship this weekend. Schumacher's best was a 1 minute 12.008 second-lap around the 2.64-mile Nevers Magny-Cours circuit.
Montoya is pinning his hopes for Sunday on his Michelin tires, which lately have not been as good as the Bridgestone tire used by Ferrari. "I have got to say that Michelin brought a lot more consistent tire with them, we were a lot more consistent this morning on the runs that we did, so I think the chances are much better than normal," said Montoya.
Schumacher's qualifying session was eventful. On his first hot lap he missed a turn at the end of his lap and swept through the gravel trap. The team quickly reset his F2002, allowing the German to get back on track and briefly oust Montoya from pole. He also had a second fast lap thrown out when he missed a chicane.
"I think we all have the same problem," said Schumacher. "It is simply so slippery, especially with the heat, that it is not driving, it is sliding and that is probably right for rally cars but not for Formula One cars."
The battle for pole was clearly between Schumacher, his teammate Rubens Barrichello and Montoya. Barrichello was first to set provisional pole, but quickly it was Montoya and Schumacher who set and reset the fastest time. For Montoya this pole was his fifth consecutive, his sixth of the season and ninth of his F1 career.
"We had a great battle together," Montoya said of qualifying. "It was very close. I had a very good last lap but I made a mistake in the last corner. The finishing line was in front of me and it took 10 seconds to get there and I was saying 'come on' but it was good enough."
Although Montoya has had four consecutive pole position starts, he has failed to win a race this season. The best result from the four last starts was third place at the British Grand Prix on July 7. In the other three events he had two engines failures and one crash.
Barrichello set the third-fastest time at 1:12.197. He will start Sunday's race alongside Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes, whose best time was 1 minute, 12.244 seconds. Montoya's teammate, Ralf Schumacher, was fifth fastest with a lap time of 1 minute 12.424 seconds. The top 10 included McLaren-Mercedes driver David Coulthard, Renault's Jenson Button, Jaguar's Eddie Irvine and Nick Heidfeld of Sauber-Petronas.
Michael Schumacher has not sat on pole since the Spanish Grand Prix held in April. Going into Sunday's race, Schumacher has a 54-point lead over Barrichello and Montoya in the drivers' championship. He could clinch this year's title if he comes in first without either driver finishing on the podium.
"You know, I race for pleasure and pleasure means you fight as much as you can and whatever is possible you will do," he said. "That's it. We have good battles together, all three of us, so I'm looking forward to having another one out there."
In the drivers' title, Schumacher has 86 points, with Barrichello in second with 32 and Montoya third with 31. In the constructors' championship, Ferrari leads Williams 118 to 61 with McLaren third with 37 points.
*** ARROWS PACK FOR HOME: Arrows Grand Prix had both of its drivers, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Enrique Bernoldi, turn laps in qualifying but deliberately made sure neither driver would make the cut. The team is heading back to their Britain-based factory after making sure they at least were being seen to make an effort to compete in the French Grand Prix.
"Unfortunately we were unable to qualify either car," said team boss Tom Walkinshaw. "Our priority has to be to get this team back on its feet and in a position where we can build a positive future. It's sad but we'll go home and prepare for Hockenheim."
Walkinshaw is trying to settle on-going issues with the investment bank Morgan Grenfell, which is a co-owner in the team. Because of a lack of funds the team is keeping its track time to a minimum.
According to BBC Sport, just before the British Grand Prix Morgan Grenfell took Arrows to court, forcing the team's financial crisis into the open. The bank has also opposed a deal between Arrows and energy-drink maker Red Bull, owned by Austrian Dietrich Mateschitz. BBC Sport reported Mateschitz wants to become part owner of Arrows and rename the team Red Bull Team USA.
*** BUTTON OUT, ALONSO IN: Renault test driver Fernando Alonso will become one of the team's two regular drivers in 2003, replacing Jenson Button, the team announced on Saturday. Alonso will partner Jarno Trulli while Button expects to make a decision about next season within a few weeks. Part of the reasoning behind the decision was Button's long-term links to Williams-BMW. Renault F1 President Patrick Faure said the team had a hard time choosing between Button and Alonso.
"Renault's long-term strategy is based on investing in drivers who can guarantee stability and continuity to the team as it grows in competitiveness," he said. "While Jenson is contracted to another team, Fernando is part of the RDD (Renault Driver Development) program. We feel that his performance this year as our test driver has been so promising that his great potential needs to be exploited straight away."
Button will not drive for Williams in 2003, as that team's two driver's, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, are already reportedly under contract for next season. Button, who said he learned of the team's decision following the British Grand Prix, admitted he was surprised: "I think Jarno and I have worked well as teammates," he said. "So, yes, I did have a feeling of slight shock at the news."
*** FISICHELLA TO MISS FRENCH GP: Jordan-Honda's Giancarlo Fisichella will miss Sunday's Grand Prix after having a big crash on Saturday during a practice session. Fisichella was checked at the circuit medical center by Professor Sid Watkins and later was taken to a hospital in Nevers for evaluation. Although he had no serious injuries, he was advised to sit out the rest of the weekend.
"I don't remember what happened," said Fisichella. "I know I lost the front wing but I don't know why. I feel all right, I just have a slight headache and some neck pain. The doctor told me it's not possible for me to race because of the very big deceleration I experienced in the accident, so I'm going to rest in preparation for Hockenheim." His teammate, Takuma Sato, qualified 14th for the race.