Justin Wilson enjoyed his best qualifying session of the 2003 F1 season so far at Imola, and will start the San Marino Grand Prix ahead of fellow Briton Ralph Firman and Minardi team mate Jos Verstappen in 18th place.

Whilst there is no doubt that the Minardi is the least competitive car in the field and, therefore, normally destined for the back row of the grid, balancing pace with a mistake-free lap is vital with the pressure of one lap qualifying. Wilson's task was made all the tougher as a light shower of rain sprinkled the circuit ten minutes before the start of qualifying and, as the first to run, he would have to judge just how slippery the track would be on his warm-up lap.

A brake problem in practice, which the team had hoped it had solved, added to the uncertainty for the Minardi man and, during the first sector of the lap, he lost a couple of tenths when he discovered how much better his Minardi now stopped. Lesson learnt, Wilson adjusted well and drove a superb second and third sector to take 18th place when the session finally shook itself out.

With a quick, neat, lap, the Briton put pressure on team-mate Verstappen. On the first sector, the Dutchman was two-tenths up on Wilson, who was, of course, slower than expected as he explored the efficiency of his brakes. On the second sector, Verstappen and Wilson proved identically matched but, on the home stretch, the veteran went off in a big way.

So, with Verstappen already set to start behind Wilson, Jordan's Firman - next on the road - provided the second threat to the Briton's time. One lap qualifying is not easy, however, and Firman was another to try that bit too hard, first locking a wheel with his Jordan and then running wide and losing a few more tenths.

The errors guaranteed Wilson his best start of the season and, given his lightning starts in the opening three rounds, there is another chance that the lanky Briton could feature in the top ten over the opening laps.