Qualifying: Schumacher blitzes rivals

In a thrilling qualifying session in Montreal, Michael Schumacher was untouchable around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and took a dominant pole position for Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix ahead of the Williams-BMW of younger brother Ralf

Qualifying: Schumacher blitzes rivals

David Coulthard was the faster of the two McLarens and had to make do with third on the grid. Despite a last gasp effort the Scot just couldn't match the pace of his world championship rival.

"I have heard the rumours that I don't like this track," said Schumacher afterwards. "All I said was that it wasn't Spa. It's not that I don't like the track. I don't have anything against it at all."

It showed. The number one slot on the grid never looked like it was going to belong to anyone other than the reigning world champion. The time Schumacher set on his first run of the session would have been good enough to give him pole, but as if to rub salt into his rivals' wounds, the Ferrari ace went out again with less than 15 minutes to go and went even faster with a lap of 1m15.782s.

The Williams team was expected to go well this weekend, but after Saturday morning's practice sessions, Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were languishing in eighth and 14th respectively. Montoya didn't fair much better in qualifying and will start Sunday's race from 10th spot.

Schumacher Jr, on the other hand, drove like a man possessed and after failing to break the 1m17s barrier in the morning, the German almost found himself joining his brother in the 1m15s. The Williams put in a mighty lap to leap up the time sheets just over 20 minutes in with a time of 1m16.297s, and there he stayed until the chequered flag was waved.

There were two stoppages in the hour-long session, the first was for Rubens Barrichello, who slammed his Ferrari into the wall after falling foul of the vicious kerbs on the final chicane. The Brazilian was unhurt and immediately hopped over the pit wall and jumped into the spare car.

The second red flag was in exactly the same place, but this time it was the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld. As he tried to match his rookie team mate Kimi Raikkonen, the young German hit the wall somewhat harder than Barrichello, but he too escaped unscathed. Of more significance was the timing of the incident.

When the session was re-started, there was only 1m35s left to run. With Barrichello, Coulthard and team mate Mika Hakkinen all about to start their final runs before Heidfeld's accident, quite a queue began to develop at the end of the pitlane to await the re-start.

Coulthard was about fifth in the queue, but decided he wanted to beat the traffic and proceeded to push his way to the front. Goodbye Scottish gentleman, hello road rage. But the tactic worked and DC made it out first with a clear track in front of him. While he was unable to dislodge the Schumacher stranglehold on the front row, he did move up a place to take third.

A much-improved and also disgruntled Jarno Trulli was knocked down to fourth by Coulthard's late charge. The Italian had struggled in the morning session, but drove brilliantly to put his Jordan-Honda on the second row.

Barrichello was also among the late chargers, but he was unable to improve his time on his final run in the spare Ferrari and had to settle for fifth.

Olivier Panis continued to keep his British American Racing team mate Jacques Villeneuve honest by outqualifying the 1997 world champion for the fourth time this year. Panis put in an early flying lap of 1m16.875s which, halfway through the session, was good enough for second place, but the Frenchman dropped down to sixth by the end with Villeneuve three places behind in ninth.

Hakkinen had a disastrous time and after setting the fastest time in one of the morning's free practice sessions, the Finn's season looked to be taking an upturn. But the double world champ was too aggressive over the kerbs at the notorious final chicane and he damaged the underside of his MP4-16 forcing him to use the spare car. He didn't fair much better and finished the day a disappointing eighth behind the leading Sauber of Raikkonen.

Juan Pablo Montoya failed to match his team mate and rounded out the top 10 in the second Williams. The other disappointment was Jaguar. Eddie Irvine promised much on Friday by going third quickest, but in the event did not deliver. The Ulsterman was outqualified by team mate Pedro de la Rosa for the first time this year, with the Big Cat duo ending up in 14th and 15th.

Michael Schumacher was the only driver left with laps to spare at the end of the session, but according to the Ferrari ace he may not have it so easy in the race without the advantage of new tyres. But on current form, he shouldn't have too many worries.

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