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Friday qualifying review - Wilson disqualified 04 Jul 2003

(L to R): Paul Stoddart (AUS) Minardi Team Principal and his driver Jos Verstappen (NED) Minardi give the thumbs up after his provisional pole position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, French Grand Prix, Magny-Cours, France, 4 July 2003

Minardi boss Paul Stoddart has been through some interesting times recently, but the sight of his two cars first and second after today's qualifying session almost reduced the Australian to tears.

There was a sting in the tail when Justin Wilson's second place time was subsequently deleted after his car was found to be marginally underweight, but even that could do little to diminish Minardi's pleasure.

"That was fantastic!" Stoddart exclaimed after Jos Verstappen took provisional pole at Magny-Cours. "I must have been telling P1 to Jos on the radio 20 times. Of course the weather played a major role, but it took a gutsy drive to do what he did."

It was an unusual day all round for the sport. It began with BAR fighting to have a seizure order on its cars overturned by the local court in Nevers, and missing morning practice as a result, and ended with a topsy-turvy qualifying order courtesy of Magny-Cours' fickle weather conditions.

Michael Schumacher was initially fastest, when the track was at its wettest, but by the time team mate Rubens Barrichello was the seventh man out conditions had already improved. Where the early runners used the extreme wet-weather tyres, Mark Webber, the 11th driver on track, was able to use shallow wets to take the initiative.

BAR's problems had prevented an unhappy Jenson Button from getting a good time out of his car while the track was still wet, but once conditions had improved Villeneuve brought a big smile to BAR team principal David Richards' face by setting the fastest time ahead of Webber.

That only lasted a few minutes, though, before Nick Heidfeld superseded him in the Sauber as the track improved further. The German was the last man to run intermediates, however, and as the track dried fully those who were left bolted on full dry-weather tyres. Ralph Firman slid his Jordan to the fastest time, but by the time the two Minardis were ready for their turn the track was almost perfect.

Verstappen cut more than two and a half seconds off Firman's time to become the first Dutchman in living memory to set fastest time in a Grand Prix qualifying session, and Wilson's subsequent effort was good enough to give the team the top two provisional times.

Nobody expects the fairy story to last in tomorrow's qualifying session, which will determine the grid order, but drivers such as Michael Schumacher (11th after Wilson's disqualification), Juan Pablo Montoya (14th), Kimi Raikkonen (16th), Ralf Schumacher (17th) and Fernando Alonso (18th) may be compromised to some extent as Saturday's reverse running order could oblige them to run before the track conditions are optimal. But for Minardi, and the sport, this afternoon was a lot of fun.