Qualifying: DC on top in last gasp thriller

Michael Schumacher looked to have put pole position for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix firmly out of McLaren's reach by setting a stunning time halfway through qualifying, but David Coulthard went one better with a flying lap in the dying seconds to nick the coveted number one slot for Sunday's grid

Qualifying: DC on top in last gasp thriller

The Scot will line up with Schumacher alongside him and team mate Mika Hakkinen in third, while Rubens Barrichello rounded out the top four in the second Ferrari.

"I knew the time was there," said Coulthard, "I just had to put the sectors together and get the last one right. It was a good lap and I'm very happy with it."

Coulthard and Hakkinen fronted the early running with the McLaren duo trading fastest times at the top of the grid, both comfortably lapping within the 1m18s bracket. Schumacher, meanwhile, was struggling as the German was forced to abort his first run after tripping over the Arrows of Enrique Bernoldi.

The world champion was not down for long however, and Schumacher soon came back fighting and was the first man to break the 1m18s barrier with a lap of 1m17.631s.

The McLarens unsurprisingly responded immediately with both MP4-16s emerging from the tight Monaco pit lane just five minutes later. Coulthard was up first and didn't threaten his Ferrari rival after bouncing over the kerbs at the Nouvelle chicane. Hakkinen followed and while the Finn improved his time, he stayed second to the German.

To add insult to injury the second Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello came out in between the two McLarens and after struggling to mix it with the frontrunners for most of the weekend, the Brazilian joined his team mate in the 1m17s bracket to go third fastest behind Hakkinen.

Schumacher used up his final run just two minutes before the end of the session, but failed to improve - over to McLaren.

Refusing to be out done the Silver Arrows returned for a final push with just seconds to go and again decided to hunt together. Coulthard was up first and drove a faultless lap to leapfrog both his team mate and Monaco-meister Schumacher with a blistering lap of 1m17.430s.

The Scot could not, however, celebrate straight away and had to wait for Hakkinen to cross the line some 30 seconds later. The Finn had made a last minute set-up change in the quest for more speed before his final run, but it didn't work and he had to settle for third behind Schumacher.

"Finally it all came together," said Coulthard, who had not topped any of the free practice sessions before qualifying. "I made a mistake on Thursday and that breaks your confidence. After that I had to play catch-up. But I wasn't sand-bagging by not being at the top of the sheets on the other days."

With another McLaren and Ferrari monopoly on the top four places, the best-of-the-rest prize went to Ralf Schumacher and Williams. The younger Schumacher faired well in the early part of the session, but could not keep up as the big guns upped the pace.

Most improved performance was without a doubt Jaguar's Eddie Irvine, who finished sixth fastest. The Big Cat has had a difficult season so far, but the Ulsterman's R2, which is sporting a new aerodynamic package this weekend, was always there or thereabouts.

Juan Pablo Montoya has raced around the streets of Monte Carlo in Formula 3000, but the Williams driver had looked somewhat ragged during the free practice sessions. Montoya managed seventh place when it mattered, ahead of the top Honda runner, Jordan's Jarno Trulli, in eighth place.

Jacques Villeneuve finished in ninth place for British American Racing just ahead of the much improved Benetton of Giancarlo Fisichella. Like Jaguar, the Benettons of Fisichella and Jenson Button have revised aerodynamics from this race onwards, including a new front wing and undertray. While Fisichella was 10th, Button was slightly further down in 17th.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen wound up a lowly 13th after the German spun on his final flying lap at the slow Portier corner before the entrance to the tunnel. Frentzen tried to spin his EJ11 back on track, but constricting barriers left him with nowhere to go and he was forced to abandon his car.

For full qualifying results click here.

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