Friday qualifying review - Schumacher on top 18 Jul 2003
Michael Schumacher might have frowned when team-mate Rubens Barrichello's engine blew up this morning, but this afternoon the world champion was all smiles after setting a time in qualifying that remained unbeaten throughout another relatively quiet session.
After rain fell in the interval between free practice and qualifying, the track was dry for the start of the session, but greasy. Nevertheless, Schumacher quickly worked down to 1m 19.474s, and that would be good enough to ensure that he is the last runner in tomorrow afternoon's qualifying. "The car was good, and it was a good lap," he beamed.
Behind him, Williams drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher were his closest rivals. Montoya described his car as "very well balanced," on his way to 1m 19.749s, but Ralf had a little bit of understeer and managed 1m 19.788s. "It's nothing we can't dial out," he said. "It's clear that Ferrari is strong here, which is no surprise. I think the circuit's layout and today's weather conditions suit the Ferrari package pretty well. However, we have had similar gaps to Ferrari on Fridays before now, so I am not too worried."
Montoya, however, said: "I hope there's more to come in our car for Saturday, because Ferrari is going to be very strong here."
Renault had to be content with fourth place, courtesy of Fernando Alonso's 1m 19.907s, which was a strong performance that boosted morale. Team mate Jarno Trulli backed him up with a 1m 19.963s, which kept him fifth until late in the session when Olivier Panis squeezed his Toyota between the Renault pair with 1m 19.959s.
"We have a new aero package here, and to lap below 1m 20s is pretty remarkable," said Toyota's chief designer Gustav Brunner.
The leading McLaren was David Coulthard's, in seventh place on 1m 19.968s, but Kimi Raikkonen again had problems in qualifying. The Finn slithered his way round on his lap, with only 1m 21.065s to show for it. That was one and a half seconds off Schumacher and left him only 12th overall.
Also out of luck in the top four teams was Rubens Barrichello. On his lap he was only 0.054s off Michael Schumacher, but then went off the road at Luffield. The Ferrari got into a twitch one way, and as the Brazilian corrected it went the other way and headed straight into the gravel. He sat there helpless, the rear wheels spinning, and the session was red flagged for five minutes as the Ferrari was recovered. In the pits, Schumacher grimaced as once again the chances of his team mate riding shotgun for him in the race diminished.
Mark Webber was pleased with an eighth fastest 1m 20.171s for Jaguar, beating Jenson Button's BAR and its revised Honda V10 which stopped the clocks in 1m 20.569s. "The car feels pretty good here so far, apart from a bit of oversteer," the Englishman said. Cristiano da Matta was happy with his 10th best time of 1m 20.765s, while Antonio Pizzonia was a solid 11th on 1m 20.877s.
Jacques Villeneuve couldn't match Button's pace, and was 13th on 1m 21.084s, just edging out the Saubers of Nick Heidfeld (1m 21.211s) and Heinz-Harald Frentzen (1m 21.363s).
The two Jordan drivers pushed hard, but Giancarlo Fisichella had to be satisfied with 1m 21.500s for 16th, and Ralph Firman 1m 22.335s for 17th.
The remaining time was Jos Verstappen's 1m 23.418s which left his Minardi 18th. Barrichello was 19th, because he got further round his lap than the hapless Justin Wilson, whose Minardi cut out with a suspected electrical problem on its warm-up lap.
For the qualifying times in full, please click here.