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Friday qualifying review - Montoya edges it 12 Sep 2003

Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams BMW FW25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Italian Grand Prix, Monza, Italy, 12 September 2003

Juan Pablo Montoya and Rubens Barrichello shaped up to each other in qualifying at Monza this afternoon, and ended up very closely matched. The Colombian lapped in 1m 20.656s, the Brazilian 1m 20.784s.

Their performances confirmed expectations that here, where ultimate grip levels are less important than sheer horsepower and strong braking efficiency, title contenders Williams and Ferrari would be very closely matched.

"I wasn't very comfortable with the balance of my car this morning but we made some changes which put it back on the right track, and I think we should be pretty competitive now," Montoya said. "Before qualifying I wasn't too sure about what the car was going to do but it ran as expected, which means we did a good job. We were quite quick in last week's test here which makes us confident for the rest of the weekend."

Ferrari bemoaned Michael Schumacher's role as first man out. "Once again I was the track cleaner, and more and more being the first man out seems to be a disadvantage," the champion said. "But despite that I am happy because Rubens' performance showed the potential of the car."

"Being first out is a hassle because the support races tend to leave the track dirty," technical director Ross Brawn said. "But Rubens showed what the car can do, and the tyres are competitive."

Schumacher's best was 1m 21.268s, which nevertheless was good enough for third, but brother Ralf was in trouble after posting what appeared to be the fifth best lap of 1m 21.965s. He overshot the first chicane and subsequently had his lap disallowed, so will start tomorrow's qualifying from the second slot, behind Jos Verstappen who was not able to run after his Minardi developed a technical problem.

McLaren is also cautiously optimistic. Raikkonen was fifth, on 1m 21.966s, while David Coulthard was only 14th on 1m 23.154s after his car developed a slight technical problem. "We had a glitch in the second chicane," the Scot reported. "It was minor, but it had a big effect."

"We didn't really get the best out of the cars this afternoon," admitted team director Martin Whitmarsh, "but we are confident that we will have a competitive weekend with both cars."

At Toyota there were more mixed feelings. Cristiano da Matta really got it all together for an excellent lap of 1m 21.829s which left him fourth fastest, but balance problems kept Olivier Panis down to 1m 22.372s and 10th. "We were hoping to have both cars well up," said chief designer Gustav Brunner, "and Olivier has the experience to sort his car out for tomorrow, when I think both of them will be strong."

Mark Webber sprung another surprise at Jaguar, with sixth fastest time of 1m 21.966s despite a lack of straight-line speed which hinted at a higher downforce configuration. Team mate Justin Wilson was only half a second adrift in private testing, but a pushy lap only resulted in 15th fastest time of 1m 23.609s for him after gearbox and engine problems had earlier lost him crucial track time. "That was a good lap but the wind here is a problem," commented Webber.

The Renaults were seventh and eighth, lacking sheer horsepower on this quick circuit, but Jarno Trulli, on 1m 22.034s, said he was happy enough with his R23. Alonso, on 1m 22.103s, however, found his a handful with understeer in the chicanes.

There was a bright moment for Sauber when Heinz-Harald Frentzen took an aerodynamically revised C22 to ninth place with 1m 22.203s, making good use of the latest specification Petronas-badged Ferrari V10 engine. "If I hadn't had a moment at Parabolica I could have gone quicker still," the German said. Team mate Nick Heidfeld should have been up there with him, but set-up changes since the morning adversely affected his car's balance and he was 12th on 1m 22.547s. That left the unhappy Panis and Jenson Button (1m 22.495s) between them, the Englishman disappointed having been faster in free practice. His team mate, Jacques Villeneuve, spun in the morning and just had to get a lap together in qualifying after further delays because of an electrical problem.

At the back, Giancarlo Fisichella was an unhappy 16th on 1m 24.179s for Jordan, ahead of temporary team mate Zsolt Baumgartner on 1m 24.872s. Nicolas Kiesa was the only Minardi representative, on 1m 26.299s.

Click here for the qualifying results in full.