Michael Schumacher may have taken pole position for Sunday's Italian Grand prix, but title rivals Juan Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen refused to let the German have it easy, taking second and fourth places on the grid respectively.

Montoya, who had taken provisional overnight pole, looked set to repeat the feat, as he was up at each of the first two splits, but a tiny mistake in the final sector prevented the Colombian from making it a hat-trick of Monza poles.

"I had a pretty good lap and saw the first two sector times on the dash that confirmed I was quickest," he reported, "But then I had quite a lot of understeer, and I made a small mistake at Ascari, when I went too wide. However, I could not afford to be conservative."

The Williams-BMW driver remained positive despite having to line up on the 'wrong' side of the front row.

"I believe we have a very good car and strong tyres for the race tomorrow, even if I am starting from the 'dirty' side of the track," he said.

Raikkonen was the first of the expected frontrunners to appear at the top of the timesheets, but even an attacking lap from the Finn was not enough to overcome the resurgent Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello.

"It was a pretty good qualifying lap - 1min 21.466secs is the best time we have done so far this weekend, and the gap to the front is less than before, so I'm very pleased," he said, "Of course, we would like to be on the front row, but everything is possible from the second line. I think we will be more competitive in the race, as the car is working well, and we have a good strategy, so we will see what happens tomorrow."

All three title contenders have a wild card lurking in the top six, although Raikkonen's team-mate, David Coulthard, is back on the fourth row. Schumacher has Barrichello lining up right behind him, while Montoya has the surprise form of Marc Gene, in fifth place on his return to competitive F1, to call upon.

For departing BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger, however, the interest lies in exactly what strategy each of the top teams are using.

"It was the anticipated close dual between Ferrari and ourselves, and this will continue in the race," he said, "Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo are separated by just a fraction, and Kimi R?ikk?nen is close behind, ready to pounce. I am curious to know what fuel level each driver was carrying."

 

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