Champion ahead, but with how much fuel on board?
Michael Schumacher tops qualifying with ease, from Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya, while the man widely expected to challenge the champion for pole, BAR's Jenson Button, falls victim to driver error.
Buttons day began to go wrong towards the end of practice this morning when it was feared that his BAR had a series mechanical problem that might require an engine change. Ultimately it did not, but come qualifying the Englishman made a small error in Turn 7 and as his car wobbled wide when he corrected a slide, he lost momentum and pace as he ran on to the rough run-off area. It was all he needed to ruin the lap, and he could only watch in abject disappointment as his hopes of a second pole position evaporated. His time of 1m 17.575s initially left him fifth, but by the time everyone else had had their turns he was a totally dejected 14th. On a circuit where overtaking is notoriously difficult, he faces a very tough race.
Not so Michael Schumacher. After trailing at times in practice he pulled out his trump card in qualifying to grab yet another pole position, and he made it look very easy. The car was good, and I had no problems, he said cheerfully.
BAR still have a chance of winning, for Takuma Sato at one stage sat on the front row of the grid alongside the champion. He had lapped in 1m 15.809s to go fastest until Schumachers pole-winning 1m 15.022s, but then right at the very end Juan Pablo Montoya got his Williams wound up and pumped in 1m 15.639s, much to the delight of his team. But for either Montoya or Sato to entertain hopes of victory, they need to beat Schumacher off the line, and he may have been running a lap less fuel.
Renaults Jarno Trulli will start fourth, the Italian once again overshadowing local hero Fernando Alonso. The Italian managed 1m 16.144s to the Spaniards 1m 16.422s which left him eighth. Rubens Barrichello is fifth with 1m 16.272s, Ralf Schumacher sixth with 1m 16.293s, and Olivier Panis a strong seventh for Toyota with 1m 16.313s.
Completing the top 10 are Mark Webber, who once again got back into his rhythm in the Jaguar to record 1m 16.514s, and David Coulthard, who was happy to out-qualify team mate Kimi Raikkonen with 1m 16.636s to the Finns 1m 17.445s. The difference, however, suggests differing strategies.
Eleventh place fell to Cristiano da Matta, on 1m 17.038s, while Giancarlo Fisichella hit Saubers target of 12th place with 1m 17.444s having been second fastest in pre-qualifying after a low-fuel run. Behind Raikkonen and Button in 13th and 14th spots is Nick Heidfeld, who took his Jordan to 1m 17.802s, then comes Jaguar Christian Klien on 1m 17.812s and a disgruntled Felipe Massa who blamed himself for an error in Turn 7 which kept him down to 1m 17.866s in the second Sauber.
Minardis Gianmaria Bruni out-qualified the Jordan of Giorgio Pantano after the latter made a costly error in Turn 7, and Zsolt Baumgartner is the last runner in the second Minardi.
Did Schumacher win through with a low-fuel run, or is the Ferrari still more than half a second a lap quicker than its opposition despite the general belief that the Michelin tyres were slightly better than the Bridgestones over a one-lap run? All will start to be revealed after two oclock local time tomorrow.