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Saturday qualifying review - Williams again 05 Jul 2003

Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams celebrates his pole position.
Formula One World Championship, Rd10, French Grand Prix, Magny-Cours, France, 5 July 2003

In Canada three weeks ago Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya wrapped up the front row of the grid for Williams, yet still they lost the race to Michael Schumacher and Ferrari. It's something that has not been forgotten by the men from Grove. Shortly after they had again annexed the front row of the starting grid here in Magny-Cours this afternoon, with lap times of 1m 15.019s and 1m 15.136s respectively, technical director Patrick Head made it clear that, while gratified, the team won't be counting any chickens just yet.

"We had all all-Williams front row in Montreal but we did not get the victory," he said. "There are so many possibilities to get it wrong on race day. Ferrari might not look strong today but you never underestimate Michael Schumacher."

Ralf, too, was in a mood to be cautious. "The weekend started well but there are no points for pole position. But we got more top speed than this morning which is important to defend your position at the end of the straight in the race."

He had also been quickest in the second morning session, but while he was happy with his car Montoya had struggled. "Until the warm-up I didn't feel comfortable in the car when I was pushing," the Colombian said. "We changed almost everything and on my qualifying run I had the best set-up I have had all weekend."

The speed of the white and blue cars left rivals rueing lack of grip. It was clear that Michelin had an advantage over Bridgestone in the conditions that prevailed today.

The world champion was the fastest on top speed and time in the first sector, but Ferrari was losing out over the rest of the lap. "I'd like to trade that fastest sector time for pole position!" Michael Schumacher joked. "Obviously we are losing out in the second and third sectors and I have no clue why."

If he was philosophical about his third-fastest lap of 1m 15.480s, Rubens Barrichello was distraught with 1m 16.166s which left him only eighth. "The car was all of a sudden much worse than this morning," he said. "I had terrible understeer." The red cars also lacked traction in the medium fast corners.

This time the McLaren drivers were evenly matched in fourth (Kimi Raikkonen) and fifth (David Coulthard). The Finn complained of mild understeer and said his lap was the best he could do, while the Scot was bucked by a strong qualifying performance and said: "I am optimistic for the race but curious to see whether Williams is doing anything different with its strategy or whether it is genuinely that quick."

This time Jarno Trulli out-qualified team mate Fernando Alonso in the Renault camp, and the Italian was happy with his sixth position and his lap of 1m 15.976s after set-up changes since the morning did the trick for him. Alonso, on 1m 16.087s was also satisfied, but both admitted that their rivals in front of them will be hard to beat tomorrow.

Ninth for Mark Webber was on target with Jaguar's top 10 aims, and Antonio Pizzonia only lost a position there when Olivier Panis intervened for Toyota. The Frenchman was mystified that his car lost performance since the warm-up, despite running exactly the same set-up, but team-mate Cristiano da Matta in 13th place was happy enough, having changed track this weekend and aimed at race pace rather than qualifying speed.

Geoff Willis at BAR reported that 12th and 14th places for Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button were about what they had expected given their problems this weekend. The Canadian kept it clean for a 1m 16.990s best, while Button's lack of track running on Friday and again this morning when his engine broke, restricted his set-up time.

Both Sauber and Jordan exhibited dramatic lack of overall grip, while Minardi came back down to earth after Jos Verstappen's performance yesterday, and took its usual places on the last row with the Dutchman ahead of team mate Justin Wilson.

There are two big things Williams' rivals are waiting to find out: Has the team adopted an innovative three-stop strategy that would account for its speed, and can the Michelins keep up their pace tomorrow? The answer to the first question is relatively easy - all of the top teams are likely to be on two-stop or all of them are likely to be on three-stop strategies - but in the answer to the second lies the fascination of what promises to be a very tough race.

For qualifying times in full click here.