Qualifying: Trulli dominates again

Just as he did in the US GP at Indianapolis two weeks ago, Jarno Trulli ignored the script and the championship showdown and made Friday all his own by taking provisional pole position with an inch perfect lap. The Renault ace dominated free practice and then drove flawlessly in qualifying to set a time of 1m30.281s - the fastest lap recorded on the 3.6-mile circuit

Qualifying: Trulli dominates again

He had looked likely to do it all day. The Renault's exceptional front-end grip through the S Curves seemed to feed the Italian boundless amounts of confidence and he was superior in free practice, firing times off at will anytime anyone got near him. The only man that looked truly likely to give him trouble this afternoon was his team-mate Fernando Alonso, but in the end, a small mistake at the chicane put paid to any hopes the Spaniard had of running in the last five tomorrow.

Michael Schumacher was first out as championship leader and put in a lap that proved robust enough to stand for third spot. Smooth and crisp, the world champion will be satisfied that the lap keeps him ahead of title rival Raikkonen even if it couldn't withstand Ralf Schumacher's excellent 1m30.343s time for second in the Williams BMW.

David Coulthard strung it all together to out-qualify his McLaren-Mercedes team-mate to go fourth with a tidy lap and put himself in the thick of things for tomorrow's vital grid decider. Raikkonen's lap, good enough for fifth fastest, looked even better than Coulthard's, but he was the second man out and the track didn't give away as much time for the Finn.

Rubens Barrichello was less than three tenths slower than Schumacher, but it cost him four spaces on the provisional grid. "I think it will be close in terms of competitiveness this weekend," he said afterwards. "I was happy with the balance of my car. I made a small mistake in the chicane, otherwise my lap could have been even better."

A downcast Juan Pablo Montoya, out of the title fight after his disastrous US GP, was eighth fastest with a performance that seemed to tail off as the sectors passed by. Mark Webber made it in to the top ten again for Jaguar although the Cosworth's lack of power cost the Australian dearly in the run down from Spoon Curve to the chicane. Nick Heidfeld rounded out the top ten, impressive considering the amount of direction changes required to guide a Sauber-Petronas through the S Curves.

BAR-Honda's promoted test driver Takuma Sato reveled in the opportunity to gain an extra race at the expense of Jacques Villeneuve's late withdrawal from the event. Out-qualifying team-mate Jenson Button, the Japanese driver missed out on a top ten spot by less than a tenth. To the Englishman's credit, his poor 16th place was down to the fact that he only managed nine laps in free practice before his engine blew, leaving him no choice but to guess his set-up for qualifying.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen was 12th ahead of the Toyotas of Olivier Panis and Cristiano da Matta. While Justin Wilson was nearly a second slower than team-mate Webber pace in the other Jaguar to go 15th. Ralph Firman used his local knowledge as a former Formula Nippon champion to outqualify team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella - driving in his last GP for Jordan. Jos Verstappen and Nicolas Kiesa's Minardis brought up the rear.

The talk for the last two weeks has been about whether Schumacher can handle the pressure of scoring the last point he needs for a record sixth crown or whether McLaren will have the pace to help Raikkonen to victory as the title battle takes its absorbing final twist. But on the strength of today's performance, perhaps it should have been about whether Trulli might finally secure his maiden victory.

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Free practice 1: Trulli shines for Renault
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