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Friday qualifying review - Williams on top 01 Aug 2003

(L to R): Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams with a Michelin representative.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Hockenheim, Germany, 1 August 2003

This afternoon in Hockenheim Michelin-shod cars took the first seven places in the first qualifying session for Sunday's German Grand Prix.

Ralf Schumacher yet again dominated a session, lapping his Williams in 1m 14.427s in sweltering conditions to edge out team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya's previously fastest time of 1m 14.673s. At times the track temperature reached 43 degrees Celsius.

"My car was perfect, just brilliant!" the German enthused. "The tyres are working really well and after we sorted a small understeer problem this morning I could really push hard. We are looking good and the temperature is a bonus for us."

Montoya was almost as cheerful. "I'm happy with my tyre choice and qualifying set-up," the Colombian said. "I just braked a little bit too early for the hairpin, which cost me time."

Initially Michael Schumacher, as championship leader, had set the ball rolling with a best of 1m 15.456s, faster than David Coulthard's morning practice best of 1m 15.523s. The world champion was using the harder Bridgestone tyre, whereas team mate Rubens Barrichello went for the softer compound.

Soon Schumacher's time began tumbling, however. Kimi Raikkonen did 1m 15.276s for McLaren to go fastest temporarily, despite his tyres going off in the final sector and dissipating what had at one stage been a 0.608s advantage. Then came Montoya and Schumacher Jnr.

Momentarily Barrichello ducked under Schumacher Jnr's time in the first sector, but in the other two the Ferrari lost ground and he ended up beating his team leader b y a scant margin with 1m 15.399s.

A clean lap then earned Fernando Alonso temporary custody of third place with 1m 15.214s, but later he would be supplanted by Renault team mate Jarno Trulli and later still, Mark Webber's Jaguar.

"We had no problems today," reported Renault engineer Pat Symonds," but the balance of the cars, while good, was not great, and we need to work on finding more top speed."

At Jaguar there were big smiles after Webber's usual confident performance netted him 1m 15.030s, right behind Trulli's 1m 15.004s, and even better was to come. New signing Justin Wilson had taken his time getting to know the other R4 in morning practice, and admitted that Webber's great showing put him under a lot of extra pressure. But with his own qualifying lap of 1m 15.373s he snatched seventh place and sat ahead of luminaries such as the reigning champion and his team mate, and fellow Britons David Coulthard and Jenson Button.

"I wanted to be as close as I could be to Mark," Wilson said. "I was thinking of it while I was in the car, and at end of the lap I knew it was reasonable, but when I saw the time it was a very pleasant surprise to be so close."

Over at Ferrari, Jean Todt admitted: "We are not usually eighth and ninth. Our competition seems to be strong over a flying lap. But we don't think this result is a true reflection of what will happen over the whole weekend."

Meanwhile, Coulthard made too many small mistakes and was only 11th overall, beaten to the final top 10 placing by Olivier Panis, who was very happy with his Toyota's balance and the latest engine specification which makes the V10 more driveable.

Jenson Button was 12th on 1m 15.754s, troubled by oversteer in the first corner. The same problem caught out BAR team mate Jacques Villeneuve who spun there on his lap and thus did not set a time.

The Saubers of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Nick Heidfeld would have been higher but for a mistake in the first corner by the elder German and one in the final corner by the younger. Cristiano da Matta was disappointed that changes to his car spoiled its morning balance, and had to settle for 15th fastest time, while Ralph Firman was very pleased to pip Giancarlo Fisichella, 1m 17.044s to 1m 17.111s in the inter-team Jordan battle.

Jos Verstappen was 18th on 1m 17.702s after a doughty effort, but new team mate Nicolas Kiesa's Formula One debut went awry when his car stalled as he tried to leave the pits. "It went into anti-stall mode, and I didn't yet know how to get out of it," the unhappy Dane explained.

So far the weekend seems to be going the way of the Michelin runners, with Williams again looking dangerously strong, but Michael Schumacher said he was not unduly worried. "It doesn't look too encouraging for us," he admitted, "but we are very consistent in race trim."