Final qualifying: Ralf snatches pole

Ralf Schumacher raced to the top of the timesheets for the second pole position of his Formula 1 career, not only putting Williams back at the head of the field around Monaco's twisty streets but doing so on a circuit that he famously dislikes

Final qualifying: Ralf snatches pole

With his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya - polesitter at Monaco last year - qualifying third, it was an excellent day for Williams and BMW. However, it was better still for Michelin as the French manufacturer had its tyres on eight of the top-10, with only the Ferraris interrupting their dominance.

Schumacher set his lap time of 1m15.259s with four drivers still to go out for their one-off flying laps, but McLaren's David Coulthard couldn't beat it, then neither could Renault's Jarno Trulli nor Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello.

Ralf's brother Michael was the last to run, having been fastest in Thursday's qualifying hour. But the Ferrari driver found that the trait of Bridgestone rubber going off towards the end of the flying lap afflicted him as well and he not only failed to beat Ralf, but fell back to fifth place.

Ralf acknowledged afterwards that qualifying at Monaco this year was like never before, because of the one-at-a-time format. "It's very easy to make a mistake here," he said, "but I didn't, so it's a great result for the team. I made a mistake at the Swimming Pool last year, so I made sure that I really focused on it today."

McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen had been only 11th in Thursday's qualifying, so was ninth driver out onto the track, making his run to second place on the grid all the more impressive. He harnessed the Mercedes-powered car's straightline speed to good effect and drove an excellent second sector, but his best lap of 1m15.295s meant that Ralf pipped him by 0.036s, with Montoya's best being 0.120s slower.

Renault's Trulli reckoned that he ought to have been third fastest, but had to settle for fourth on the grid for Sunday's race after losing a little time by clouting the kerb at the chicane and losing traction control for a fraction of a second, leaving his lap time as 1m15.500s. A lack of straightline speed was clearly a factor, with his speed exiting the tunnel being 279kph, whereas Ralf hit 291kph...

However, Trulli was particularly cheered when Michael Schumacher could manage only a lap of 1m15.644s, this despite being fastest of all in the opening sector. Indeed, Michael came oh so close to hitting the barrier on the exit of Casino Square to achieve this, but lost time, like all Bridgestone runners, in the third and final sector of the lap, leaving the Ferrari driver fifth fastest.

Coulthard expected more than an eventual sixth place on the timesheets, having been fastest of all in the final practice session. Indeed, his best time then - 1m14.747s - would have put his McLaren on pole. But one-at-a-time qualifying is very different, with caution being all the more important as he and many other drivers have found on occasion thus far this season. A decision to adjust his car's front anti-roll bar between practice and qualifying was one that backfired as the unwanted oversteer was transformed into even more unwanted understeer that meant that he could lap only in 1m15.700s.

Seventh place on the grid went to Barrichello, the Brazilian's engine appearing to fall slightly sick out of the final corner, costing him several grid positions. However, his lap of 1m15.820s was still just good enough to keep him 0.064s in front of Fernando Alonso who did remarkably well to recover from the track time he lost by hitting the barriers no fewer than four times since the start of the meeting on Thursday.

The top-10 was rounded out Mark Webber and a hard-charging, or perhaps fuel-light, Cristiano da Matta for Jaguar and Toyota respectively.

It's not yet known whether BAR's Jenson Button, who didn't take part in the session following a crash this morning, will start tomorrow's race, with the go-ahead to be decided upon by Prof Watkins.

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