Qualifying: Happy birthday, Ralf!

Forget the rest: the Schumachers were the only game in town when it came down to qualifying for Sunday's French Grand Prix. Ralf celebrated his 26th birthday by taking his first ever Formula 1 pole position in a breathtaking hour of almost non-stop action, but big brother Michael pushed the Williams-BMW driver hard, stopping the clocks just 0.01s shy in his Ferrari

Qualifying: Happy birthday, Ralf!

Ralf was the only driver to break into the 1m12s zone - but only just. The 1m12.989s flyer was stunning in anybody's book, but an aborted lap later in the session and an almost half-hearted final run meant the younger Schumacher didn't dent the benchmark further.

As an aside, 30-degree ambient temperatures further thwarted the cause of fast lappery, putting Ralf's achievement into an even more favourable perspective. Before the session, most observers believed Bridgestone already had an advantage over Michelin on the billiard table smooth Magny-Cours track and that the temperatures would merely highlight it. Not the case...

After Eddie Irvine's Michelin-shod Jaguar held the pole in the opening minutes of the session, Ralf laid down the gauntlet with a 1m14.441s lap on the quarter-hour mark, but Michael soon responded with a 1m13.574s. However, those were just the preambles to the main event and with 30 minutes gone, the birthday boy stunned the pit lane with the lap that would stand to the end.

Michael decided to beat the last-minute traffic jam by embarking on his final run with a full eight minutes still to go, and the Ferrari was actually up at the first sector. But as the reigning world champion crossed the timing beam the advantage had been reduced to a deficit of just one hundredth of a section - around four metres in real terms.

As the Kerpen-born pace-setters did their own thing at the front, McLaren-Mercedes made it an inter-team battle for the best of the rest. Mika Hakkinen held on until the closing minutes, banging in a time just 0.279s behind the Williams.

But with less than three minutes to go, David Coulthard wheeled out of the pits for one last run and put in a sensational final sector time, stopping the clock just 0.197 behind Ralf and taking third form his Finnish team mate.

Almost unnoticed, Jordan's Jarno Trulli and Heinz-Harald Frentzen wound up fifth and seventh fastest, easily best of the Hondas as they sandwiched Juan Pablo Montoya in the second of the Williams-BMWs.

Rubens Barrichello continued his low-key weekend with eighth spot after trying for his times early in the session, but throwing away his chance to improve after launching himself over the kerb at the final chicane.

Nick Heidfeld and Sauber-Petronas continued the increase in momentum seen in the morning's free practice sessions to take ninth place, ahead of the BAR-Hondas of Jacques Villeneuve and Magny-Cours expert Olivier Panis.

Eddie Irvine spun out early in the session, but recovered to 12th overall, third best of the Michelin runners and Benetton-Renault showed a modicum of progress by taking 16th and 17th with the new evolution V10 installed.

Frustratingly for Jenson Button, the Englishman had been ahead of his team mate for most of th4 session, but saw a more normal status quo return in the closing minutes when Giancarlo Fisichella sneaked back ahead.

Local hero Jean Alesi had a frustrating hour, suffering a high-speed spin out of the Imola Chicane and failing to get in the groove as he struggled to 19th overall.

In the battle for last, Tarso Marques was a conclusive winner, trailing his Minardi team mate Fernando Alonso by nearly half a second.

For full qualifying results, click here.

shares
comments
Michael Happy with Ralf's Birthday Present

Previous article

Michael Happy with Ralf's Birthday Present

Next article

Heidfeld Confident after Promising Qualifying

Heidfeld Confident after Promising Qualifying
Load comments
The other notable Monza escape that F1 should learn from Plus

The other notable Monza escape that F1 should learn from

OPINION: The headlines were dominated by the Italian Grand Prix crash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, who had the halo to thank for avoiding potentially serious injury. But two days earlier, Formula 1 had a lucky escape with a Monza pitlane incident that could also have had grave consequences

How Monza only added more questions to F1's sprint race conundrum Plus

How Monza only added more questions to F1's sprint race conundrum

With two sprint races under its belt, Formula 1 must now consider its options for them going forward. While they've helped deliver exciting racing on Sundays, the sprints themselves have been somewhat lacking - creating yet another conundrum for F1 to solve...

Formula 1
Sep 16, 2021
Who should Alfa Romeo sign for 2022's F1 season? Plus

Who should Alfa Romeo sign for 2022's F1 season?

OPINION: With Valtteri Bottas already signed up for 2022, all eyes are on the race for the second seat at Alfa Romeo next year. Antonio Giovinazzi is the current incumbent, but faces a tough competition from appealing short and long-term prospects

Formula 1
Sep 15, 2021
The "forced break" that was key to Ricciardo's Monza excellence Plus

The "forced break" that was key to Ricciardo's Monza excellence

OPINION: Daniel Ricciardo has long been considered one of Formula 1’s elite drivers. But his struggles at McLaren since switching from Renault for 2021 have been painful to watch at times. Yet he’s recovered to banish those memories with a famous Monza win – built on a critically important foundation

Formula 1
Sep 14, 2021
How Verstappen is ruining his F1 title battle with Hamilton Plus

How Verstappen is ruining his F1 title battle with Hamilton

OPINION: The Italian GP clash between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen followed a running theme in the 2021 Formula 1 title fight. Their close-quarters battles have often resulted in contact - and although Hamilton has shown a willingness to back off, Verstappen must learn to temper his aggression

Formula 1
Sep 14, 2021
Italian Grand Prix Driver Ratings Plus

Italian Grand Prix Driver Ratings

Two drivers produced maximum-score performances as, for the second year in a row, Monza threw up an unpredictable result that left several others ruing what might have been

Formula 1
Sep 13, 2021
Why Ricciardo was set for Monza F1 triumph even without Verstappen/Hamilton crash Plus

Why Ricciardo was set for Monza F1 triumph even without Verstappen/Hamilton crash

The clash between Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton was the major flashpoint the 2021 Italian Grand Prix will be remembered for. Yet by this point, race leader Daniel Ricciardo had already done the hard work that would put him in position to end his and McLaren's lengthy win droughts, on a memorable afternoon in Monza

Formula 1
Sep 13, 2021
Why Italian GP success is on for McLaren even if Verstappen dominates Plus

Why Italian GP success is on for McLaren even if Verstappen dominates

For the second time in 2021, McLaren will line up for the start of a grand prix from the first row. It knows it has the chance of “glory” if things go well for Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris at the start of the 2021 Italian Grand Prix, but even if they just maintain their grid positions, signs from the rest of the Monza weekend suggest success is very possible for Formula 1’s other orange army

Formula 1
Sep 12, 2021