A silver one-two, but Alonso maintains the pressure
A McLaren front row was expected at Spa-Francorchamps, and when the chips were down they delivered the goods. Juan Pablo Montoya was the last man out in the session, which was dry throughout despite a midway threat of rain, and he edged out team mate Kimi Raikkonen.
Altogether, 10 of the 20 drivers had the fastest time at one stage or other, but in the end it was the Colombian who kept hold of it with his lap of 1m 46.391s. By 0.049s that was sufficient to push Raikkonen back one place, after the Finn had posted 1m 46.440s. That in itself had deposed Jarno Trulli, who is thought to have run a relatively light fuel load for his lap of 1m 46.596s, which included a stunning middle sector, in his Toyota TF105.
Giancarlo Fisichella ran very low downforce and achieved 1m 46.497s which left him momentarily third, until his 10 grid place penalty was applied after his Renault engine change this morning. If it is a wet race tomorrow, as seems likely, the Italian is in for an entertaining afternoon.
Fernando Alonso was not as fast as he had been this morning, relative to the McLarens, but was quietly confident after setting the fifth best time of 1m 46.760s in his Renault.
Ralf Schumacher had earlier deposed brother Michael as the pacesetter, the younger German pushing his Toyota round in 1m 47.401s against big bros Ferrari lap of 1m 47.476s which had been fastest for some time. Like Trulli, Michael may be running light. However, Ferrari admitted the set-up of both their cars was a compromise in case of rain on Sunday.
Felipe Massa did a great lap for Sauber and was very happy with 1m 47.867s. This put him ahead of Jenson Buttons BAR, which the Englishman lapped in 1m 47.978s. Right behind Button, Mark Webber was the quicker Williams pilot in 1m 48.071s, then came early pacesetter Takuma Sato with 1m 48.353s. David Coulthard was again the leader for Red Bull in 1m 48.508s, which Rubens Barrichello narrowly failed to beat with 1m 48.550s. Jacques Villeneuve, on a different strategy to Massa and troubled by oversteer, posted 1m 48.889s, while Antonio Pizzonia pushed his Williams to 1m 48.898s. Christian Klien was 16th on 1m 48.994s.
In the inter-Minardi battle Robert Doornbos put his 2004 F3000 victory experience to great use to pip Christijan Albers, their respective times being 1m 49.779s and 1m 49.842s. At Jordan, Tiago Monteiro pushed to 1m 51.498s, leaving team mate Narain Karthikeyan 20th on 1m 51.575s. Both are banking on rain in Sundays race.
With Fisichella dropping back to 13th place, the front of the grid reads: Montoya, Raikkonen; Trulli, Alonso; Schumacher Jnr, Schumacher Snr; Massa, Button; Webber, Sato; Coulthard, Fisichella.
Though practice and qualifying were dry today (bar a few light rain spots when Trulli was on his quick lap), the forecast for tomorrow predicts a very high chance of rain, which could yet render things a lottery!