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  Saturday, 20 July, 2002, 13:23 GMT 14:23 UK
Flying Montoya on top again
Williams' Jaun Pablo Montoya in action during qualifying
Montoya's scintillating qualifying form continues

Juan Pablo Montoya has taken pole position for the fifth Grand Prix in a row after a thrilling battle with Ferrari drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello in France.

The Colombian Williams star edged out Schumacher by just 0.023 seconds right at the end of the session after a see-saw battle between the three men.

Barrichello was third, just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who set an impressive lap for McLaren.

Michelin have brought a very consistent tyre and we are confident for the race
Juan Pablo Montoya

Montoya benefited from an apparent advantage at the Magny-Cours track for his Michelin tyres over the Bridgestones used by Schumacher's Ferrari team.

Nevertheless, stunning pole position laps are becoming a habit for Montoya - and this was every bit as good as any of the other five he has set this year.

After first Montoya, then Schumacher and then Montoya again held fastest time, the two men went out right at the end of the session with the Williams just ahead on the road.

He inched slowly further away from the Ferrari as they headed around the lap, eventually stopping the clocks at one minute 11.985 seconds.

Montoya said: "This was really a good qualifying, probably my best so far. The fight with Michael was exciting.

"We didn't think we would get on pole here, as we thought at first that Ferrari was too quick. In fact, before the start of qualifying we were a little concerned about McLaren as well.

Michael Schumacher in qualifying for the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours
Schumacher could not quite match Montoya

"Michelin have made a big step forward and has brought here some very consistent tyres which makes us confident for the race."

Schumacher also set his fastest time of the session, but could only do a 1:12.008.

He said: "I think it could be a much tighter race but I'm not sure we have got the full picture yet."

Schumacher is still in with a good chance of tying up the championship this weekend.

If the German wins the race and Montoya and Barrichello finish lower than second, then the German will be champion.

That would equal the record of five titles set by Juan Manuel Fangio, and make Schumacher by a race the fastest man in history to win the championship.

Schumacher would have clinched the title with six races to go - Nigel Mansell holds the record, with five races remaining in 1992.

Jenson Button was seventh for Renault, behind Williams' Ralf Schumacher and McLaren's David Coulthard - and ahead of team-mate Jarno Trulli for only the third time in 11 races so far this year.

It was success tainted with bitterness for the Englishman, however - Renault are to announce on Saturday afternoon that he will be replaced by Fernando Alonso for 2003.

Kimi Raikkonen
Raikkonen was in excellent form for McLaren

The Jaguars were much more competitive than they were at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago when their much-vaunted new aerodynamic package made its debut.

Eddie Irvine was ninth fastest - 10 places higher than he was at Silverstone.

Team boss Niki Lauda said Jaguar had been "flattered a little" by Michelin's tyre advantage "combined with the somewhat odd nature of this circuit".

The Arrows drivers did only three laps before parking their cars up - almost certainly for the rest of the weekend.

Boss Tom Walkinshaw is trying to resolve difficulties with the team's co-owner, the investment bank Morgan Grenfell.

BBC Five Live's Jonathan Legard
"It was a race for the line in the closing seconds"
In-depth guide to the 2002 Formula One season

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F1 2002
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