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We think perhaps they doth protest too much. After saying all week that its Williams/BMW package didn't have the speed to match the Ferraris in the Italian cars' home race at Monza, especially given the new, more powerful qualifying engine Ferrari was introducing at this event, the Williams team reigned supreme today in qualifying for tomorrow's Italian Grand Prix.

Juan Pablo Montoya pulverised the record for the quickest ever qualifying lap in Formula 1 when he lapped Monza at 161.484mph. The previous mark was held by former World Champion Keke Rosberg, also in a Williams, at Silverstone in 1985.

"I think it's pretty good," understated the laid-back Colombian. "Although, I expect next year we will be quicker again. Still it was two seconds quicker than last year, so that's pretty impressive."

A stunning middle sector – through the quick Lesmo corners - made all the difference on Montoya's best lap and he beat the field by over a quarter of a second to set up the possibility of a fascinating battle with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher in tomorrow's Grand Prix.

Schumacher final run of the day deprived Williams/BMW of a front row sweep, but he had to work hard to find the time. A hot lap followed by one to cool the tires and then another all-out effort did the business for the World Champion, as he improvised in order to get the best out of a his hard-compound Bridgestones.

"I had to do it with a different strategy," said Schumacher. "We just weren't fast enough, but we hope we will be tomorrow."

Williams technical director Patrick Head, who was pesimistic about his team's chances against Ferrari, remains so for the race. "The Ferrari is the best car of the year," he admitted, "so if I was a betting man, I'd still be putting the money on the red cars – but I think we will be a lot closer than we have been."

There was a Williams-Ferrari split on row two as well. Ralf Schumacher had been quickest of all until Montoya threw in his jaw-dropper of a lap, but the German rued a mistake on his third run, which prevented him improving and meant his brother's last effort pushed him down to third.

Rubens Barrichello had been ahead of his teammate until his final attempt, but he will have to be content with fourth place on the grid.

Kimi Raikkonen was best of the rest in the McLaren-Mercedes, despite a session-stopping last run crash with Takuma Sato's Jordan/Honda. The Finn was just warming up for his final hot lap, when he moved over on Sato – on a qualifying lap – on the run-up to the second chicane. Both drivers got away without serious hurt from what could have been a huge shunt, but Sato was not a happy man (see Notebook).

Raikkonen's best lap was an impressive seven tenths better than teammate David Coulthard's time and Eddie Irvine's Jaguar was between the two McLarens in sixth place, with Pedro de La Rosa eighth as the Jaguars excelled on this low-downforce track.

Jacques Villeneuve pulled a rabbit out of the hat to set ninth-best time in the BAR-Honda – half a second and seven places ahead of teammate Olivier Panis.

Mika Salo completed the top 10 ahead Jarno Trulli, Giancarlo Fisichella and Allan McNish. The Sauber pair were 14th and 15th with Felipe Massa again quicker than Nick Heidfeld. Panis, Jenson Button and Sato filled 16th to 18th places – all well down on their teammates.

Returning Minardi driver Alex Yoong qualified comfortably, albeit in last place, 1.317sec slower than teammate Mark Webber and quite a bit slower than he'd gone in free practice.

Italian Grand Prix qualifying results:

1) Juan Pablo Montoya, Compaq Williams/BMW, 1:20.264
2) Michael Schumacher, Marlboro/Vodafone Ferrari, 1:20.521
3) Ralf Schumacher, Compaq Williams/BMW, 1:20.542
4) Rubens Barrichello, Marlboro/Vodafone Ferrari, 1:20.706
5) Eddie Irvine, HSBC Jaguar/Cosworth, 1:21.606
6) Kimi Raikkonen, West McLaren/Mercedes, 1:21.163*
7) David Coulthard, West McLaren/Mercedes, 1:21.803
8) Pedro de la Rosa, BSDC Jaguar/Cosworth, 1:21.960
9) Jacques Villeneuve, Lucky Strike BAR/Honda, 1:22.126
10) Mika Salo, Panasonic Toyota, 1:22.318
11) Jarno Trulli, Mild Seven Renault, 1:22.383
12) Giancarlo Fisichella, DHL Jordan/Honda, 1:22.515
13) Allan McNish, Panasonic Toyota, 1:22.521
14) Felipe Massa, Red Bull Sauber/Petronas, 1:22.565
15) Nick Heidfeld, Red Bull Sauber/Petronas, 1:22.601
16) Olivier Panis, Lucky Strike BAR/Honda, 1:22.645
17) Jenson Button, Mild Seven Renault, 1:22.714
18) Takuma Sato, DHL Jordan/Honda, 1:23.166
19) Mark Webber, KL Minardi/Asiatech, 1:23.794
20) Alex Yoong, KL Minardi/Asiatech, 1:25.111
* time disallowed by race stewards
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