Alonso Gives Renault French Pole

World Championship leader Fernando Alonso put himself in the perfect position to extend his lead in the title race this weekend when he secured pole position in Saturday's qualifying session for the French Grand Prix.

Renault driver Alonso, who takes a 22-point advantage over closest rival Kimi Raikkonen into Sunday's race, set a time of 1:14.412, the fastest lap of the weekend so far, to ease himself into top spot.

Toyota driver Jarno Trulli, who claimed pole position at the last race in the United States, will start alongside Alonso on the front row of the grid after finishing 0.109 seconds behind the Spaniard.

Raikkonen finished the session third fastest but the McLaren driver will drop down to 13th on the grid because his team were forced to take a 10-position grid penalty after changing an engine on Friday.

World Champion Michael Schumacher, who ran last after winning the last race in Indianapolis in bizarre circumstances, has struggled in a single lap all year but put himself in the mix for victory with a lap of 1:14.572.

Schumacher will start from third on the grid, alongside BAR-Honda driver Takuma Sato, who set the fifth fastest time but, like Schumacher, will move up the grid because of Raikkonen's penalty.

Rubens Barrichello, in the second Ferrari, and Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella will start from the third row after finishing sixth and seventh fastest respectively in the session.

Jenson Button, in the second BAR-Honda, and Juan Pablo Montoya, in the second McLaren, will start from the fourth row after finishing eighth and ninth, while Sauber pair Felipe Massa and Jacques Villeneuve claimed a fifth row lock-out.

Overnight rain caused problems in the opening morning practice session but temperatures of 21 degrees Celsius ensured the track was perfectly dry for the vital afternoon qualifying session.

Ralf Schumacher, who was forced to pull out of the farcical United States Grand Prix after a heavy crash, was out first and although he made a mistake and set a slow time David Coulthard, next out, finished slower than him.

Nick Heidfeld, whose Williams team have struggled all weekend, slotted into second behind Schumacher, Christian Klien was then even slower than teammate Coulthard but Villeneuve finally bettered Schumacher's effort to go top.

Montoya, suffering with apparent understeer, then put his McLaren on top before Massa slotted into second, finishing just ahead of his World Champion teammate Villeneuve.

Mark Webber slotted into a disappointing fifth in the second Williams before Sato put in a stunning lap to go 0.751 faster than Montoya, but he was soon beaten by Alonso, the next man out.

Fisichella, who topped one of the morning practice sessions, was out next but he failed to improve on his teammate Alonso's time and slotted in behind Sato in provisional third place.

Button was the next driver on track but he was almost four tenths of a second slower than Sato and slotted into provisional fourth, just ahead of Montoya, whose teammate Raikkonen was out next.

Despite suffering a ten-place penalty for changing an engine, Raikkonen still decided to come out and set a lap and his effort was good enough to put him provisional second in the session with the penalty still to be added.

Trulli, the pole winner in the United States, was the next out on track and his Toyota appeared to be handling well around the French circuit as he put himself into second place ahead of Raikkonen.

Then came all the cars that actually raced in the United States, with the two Minardis followed by the two Jordans and finally World Champions Ferrari, with Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher, to run last.

Pos Driver Team Time 1. (10) Alonso Renault (M) 1:14.412 2. (14) Trulli Toyota (M) 1:14.521 + 0.109 3. (13) Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) 1:14.559 + 0.147 4. (20) M.Schumacher Ferrari (B) 1:14.572 + 0.160 5. (9) Sato BAR-Honda (M) 1:14.655 + 0.243 6. (19) Barrichello Ferrari (B) 1:14.832 + 0.420 7. (11) Fisichella Renault (M) 1:14.887 + 0.475 8. (12) Button BAR-Honda (M) 1:15.051 + 0.639 9. (6) Montoya McLaren-Mercedes (M) 1:15.406 + 0.994 10. (7) Massa Sauber-Petronas (M) 1:15.566 + 1.154 11. (5) Villeneuve Sauber-Petronas (M) 1:15.699 + 1.287 12. (1) R.Schumacher Toyota (M) 1:15.771 + 1.359 13. (8) Webber Williams-BMW (M) 1:15.885 + 1.473 14. (3) Heidfeld Williams-BMW (M) 1:16.207 + 1.795 15. (2) Coulthard Red Bull-Cosworth (M) 1:16.434 + 2.022 16. (4) Klien Red Bull-Cosworth (M) 1:16.547 + 2.135 17. (17) Karthikeyan Jordan-Toyota (B) 1:17.857 + 3.445 18. (15) Friesacher Minardi-Cosworth (B) 1:17.960 + 3.548 19. (18) Monteiro Jordan-Toyota (B) 1:18.047 + 3.635 20. (16) Albers Minardi-Cosworth (B) 1:18.335 + 3.923 All Timing Unofficial 
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