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Saturday qualifying review 14 Jun 2003

Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW25 took pole position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd8, Canadian Grand Prix, Montreal, Canada, 14 June 2003

All weekend Ferrari and Bridgestone have been very strong here in Montreal, but when the track dried in time for final qualifying it was Williams and Michelin who sprang a surprise to put a lock on the front row of the grid.

It was Ralf Schumacher who took pole position for the second race in succession, exploiting excellent balance that he and his engineers had honed in the drying final laps of morning practice. "It was a surprise," the German admitted, "but the car was great today, and so were the tyres."

Alongside him, Juan Pablo Montoya admitted that he had lost his shot at pole with a small mistake in Turn Three, but added laconically: "Let Ralf keep taking the poles and I'll keep taking the wins."

The atmosphere was electric when the Ferraris came out to challenge for the front row, but this time both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello fell short. "It was not one of my best qualifying laps," Schumacher admitted. "But given where we are starting, I'm quite happy about my chances for the race."

Renault engineer Pat Symonds was delighted with Fernando Alonso's fourth on the grid and Jarno Trulli's eighth, on a circuit that supposedly should not suit the R23s. "It shows that the Heathrow Agreement has been good for us," he said, alluding to the accord whereby some teams signed up to limit their annual testing in return for those two extra hours on a Friday morning.

Jaguar, too, benefited from its dry road running on Friday, and yet again Mark Webber was in stunning form as he wrestled his R3 to sixth fastest time, but team-mate Antonio Pizzonia was disappointed with only 13th slot on the grid. Webber admitted later that he was surprised to be so far up the grid.

For Toyota, Saturday brought a dramatic upturn in fortune, just as it brought bitter disappointment for McLaren. Both Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta struggled for grip and lost time after spinning in the morning, but in the afternoon their estimated settings worked well. Panis was very happy with seventh on the grid, while da Matta thought he could have gone faster had he had a little bit more time to get used to his car's dry-road performance.

At McLaren, David Coulthard was a disappointing 11th fastest after making a mistake in the final corner, while Kimi Raikkonen did what he had done in Barcelona and made a costly error in the first. He caught the kerb as he turned in, and then backed his MP4-17D into the tyre wall. He will start from the back row.

Sauber had a reasonable time, with Heinz-Harald Frentzen recovering from a morning crash and then engine failure to grab 10th spot and Nick Heidfeld backing him up only a tenth of a second behind in 12th. That was better than the other Bridgestone runners, BAR and Jordan. The former failed to get the best out of its 005, as technical director Geoffrey Willis readily admitted, and local hero Jacques Villeneuve was only 14th and Jenson Button 17th. Giancarlo Fisichella fought his Jordan to 16th, while Ralph Firman (who had been fourth fastest yesterday) was at times spectacular on his way to 19th.

A great performance by Jos Verstappen saw him break away from the back row for Minardi, to take a praiseworthy 15th, while Justin Wilson was only half a second slower for 18th.

Of course, it is important not to get carried away and forget that qualifying speed is a function of fuel load, so we must wait to see how the various strategies unfold tomorrow. But one thing is for sure: the Canadian Grand Prix does not look quite the clear-cut deal that it did 24 hours ago. With Williams in the ascendant and Raikkonen left to try and fight his way through the field, a great race is in prospect as Michael Schumacher appears poised to challenge the Finn for the lead of the world championship.