David Coulthard missed a golden opportunity to take the title battle to Michael Schumacher when he spun on his fastest lap during qualifying in Magny-Cours after a problem-plagued build-up to the hour-long session.
The 29-year-old Scot, who was yesterday confirmed for another season at McLaren, was ahead of Schumacher's best time at the first split, only to spin at the Adelaide hairpin.
But he has the consolation of starting from the outside of the front row for the fourth time this season and the second race in succession.
"I locked the brakes heading into the corner and it's quite tight, so I got out of shape and lost it," he said.
Coulthard has had a torrid weekend.
"It's been an incredible two days, I've had a whole lot of problems," he admitted. "I really feel for the mechanics. They had to work under high pressure conditions. They changed parts and it ran until the next part broke, then they were at it again. It was not good preparation for qualifying or the race.
"This morning it was an oil valve problem, then there was something else. In the end I lost count. I hid away in the truck and let the guys get on with repairing things."
After the engine blew in the morning he was forced to switch cars in the session, further adding to his troubles. And adding insult to injury, the T-car was emblazoned with 'Mika' on its sidepods - the scheme Mika Hakkinen runs in non-tobacco races.
"The first two runs were in the T-car, with the last two in the race car and I didn't quite manage to get into the flow of things to find the ultimate lap," conceded Coulthard. "Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised with my lap time, bearing in mind I ran wide turn eight and had understeer through 13. It could have been different if I had another chance. But that's qualifying and it's all down to doing it on the day."
He had come to France looking to put his start-line mistake in Canada behind him. Instead he battled technical problems all weekend. He had a fuel leak and an oil problem and a fuel pump problem in Friday practice, but still topped the times.
Then in final practice on Saturday he had an engine failure and a fuel pump problem - and still managed to top the times yet again.
But it was not to be the same in qualfiying, as Schumacher headed the lists, with Rubens Barrichello second and Mika Hakkinen fourth.