Qualifying 1: Montoya in control

BMW WilliamsF1's title contender Juan Pablo Montoya stole the early initiative over his title rivals Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen by setting an astonishing lap time, faster than anyone managed in last week's test session, to take provisional pole in Monza today (Friday)

Montoya's time of 1m20.656s proved Michelin's theory that it would be competitive in Italy this weekend, despite two weeks of controversy over the width of its front tyres after races. Montoya, using a new construction approved by the FIA like all entrants signed to the French company, set by far the fastest time of the weekend.

"I wasn't very happy with the balance of the car this morning, on new tyres I kept locking up," said Montoya. "But thanks to the team the balance is very good now, and I think we'll continue to be strong this weekend."

His team-mate Ralf Schumacher may have joined him on the provisional front row but missed his braking point for the first chicane, ran over the grass and had his time, then good enough for third, disallowed later in the session, despite the fact he appeared to slow in the second sector.

Rubens Barrichello was second quickest, fractionally slower than the Colombian Williams driver, but the Brazilian claimed that wind affected his Ferrari's balance during his lap. "The time wasn't bad, it's quite close to Montoya," he said. "It was a bit windy out there and it made the car very nervous. It would be nice to be on pole tomorrow."

Championship leader M Schumacher was third quickest ahead of Cristiano da Matta's impressive, in straightline terms at least, Toyota with Raikkonen fifth. Jaguar's Mark Webber continues to impress, setting an identical lap time of 1m21.966s to the Finn to go fifth fastest overall. Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso's Renaults were sixth and seventh fastest, prompting the Italian to comment: "Car-wise we're pretty happy, but on the long straights we've never been that strong."

Heinz-Harald Frentzen mastered a difficult-looking Sauber to be ninth fastest, ahead of the second Toyota of Olivier Panis and the BAR-Honda of Jenson Button. Nick Heidfeld was 12th for Sauber, ahead of Jacques Villeneuve (BAR).

David Coulthard produced a woeful lap in his McLaren-Mercedes, which was only good enough for a lowly 14th. He made mistakes at both the first and second chicanes, and admitted: "I lost a good chunk of time, so I need to work on it tomorrow."

Justin Wilson also looked all-at-sea in the second Jaguar and was 15th fastest, ahead of the Jordan-Fords of Giancarlo Fisichella and Zsolt Baumgartner. Nicolas Kiesa was 18th for Minardi, but team-mate Jos Verstappen failed to complete his flying lap.

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