With Ferrari's new F2003-GA finally hitting the track, and Renault, Toyota, BAR and Jaguar all getting their act together at the same time, expected frontrunners McLaren and Williams found themselves mired in the midfield after Friday's first qualifying session.

Current points leader Kimi Raikkonen proved to be the best of the quartet, but could only manage eighth place after running first on the road. McLaren team-mate David Coulthard fared little better, despite appearing a little quicker than the Finn over the opening two sectors.

"Kimi and David went out first and second and acted as track-cleaners," Mercedes' Norbert Haug said by way of explanation, "The circuit was extremely dirty following the touring car practice, but tomorrow and Sunday we should be significantly better."

"The track was very dirty when I went out, which definitely cost me some time," Raikkonen concurred, "The track definitely appeared to become cleaner towards the end, which obviously affected the times. Apart from that the day was okay."

Team boss Ron Dennis had another factor to take into consideration when explaining his two cars' position.

"Barcelona is our primary test circuit, which means that we have a great deal of data available to assist in our race preparation," he revealed, "However, this data doesn't include information about the two newly developed tyres that we are using at this event. As a result, our balance is not fully optimised, which, coupled with dirty circuit conditions, made today's qualifying session a little bit difficult."

WilliamsF1 drivers Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya finished behind the two silver cars, in eleventh and 14th positions respectively, after set-up errors left both off the pace.

"After looking competitive this morning, we went in the wrong direction on the set-up and had a few problems with the balance on both cars which caused us to lose quite a bit of time in qualifying," chief operations engineer Sam Michael confessed, "Now we are going to have a look at the data to make sure we can sort this our for tomorrow."

"I was struggling with the balance of the car and made a few mistakes," Schumacher admitted candidly, "In one corner, I nearly lost the car!"

"We knew that this was going to be a difficult weekend for us, and this afternoon's times show that we are still struggling in finding the right balance for our car on this track," Montoya concluded, "I had some oversteer on my qualifying lap which severely affected my performance, but we hope to sort it out for tomorrow."