Button pipped to pole by Ralf as brakes come off

It wouldn't be Formula One if somebody wasn't carping about something, and this weekend the topic has been brakes, and how the FIA are being terribly nasty in insisting that teams must run carbon discs that are only 28 mm wide. This is, apparently, the primary reason why some teams - notably BMW Williams on Friday - have been struggling to slow their cars down.

It wouldn't be Formula One if somebody wasn't carping about something, and this weekend the topic has been brakes, and how the FIA are being terribly nasty in insisting that teams must run carbon discs that are only 28 mm wide. This is, apparently, the primary reason why some teams - notably BMW Williams on Friday - have been struggling to slow their cars down.

It makes a change from the usual litany of excuses why so many teams cannot speed their cars up.

Braking is always a major concern on the tricky Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Montreal's Ile Notre Dame. Remember last year, when Michael Schumacher gave his rivals another brilliant driving lesson as his Ferrari's anchors wilted? OK, it was principally only brother Ralf, who copped a load of criticism for failing to make a single passing move (and he did get revenge on his critics by dominating the ensuing French GP) but when the champion said on Friday, "We are going to have a very close-fought weekend, I think," braking was obviously one of the things that was uppermost in his mind.

The problem is that the ventilated 28mm discs stipulated by the rules have surfaces that are closer together than 32mm discs would have, so they are harder to cool. "I think we can make discs last that are 28mm thick," admitted McLaren's managing director Martin Whitmarsh, whose cars have had their own brake troubles this season.

"The reality is, like all aspects of racing, you're going to take it to the limit, so inevitably here and Monza, which are very heavy braking circuits, they're the exception. You'll develop the fundamental architecture for most circuits and when you come to a heavy braking circuit you're going to be on the limit. So if you made the disc 32mm then we'd find ways of to have better brakes for all the other circuits and when we got here we'd be in trouble again.

"The truth is that you can make brakes work which are 28mm and you could probably make the work at 20mm - you'd find a material which had less oxidisation or less wear and would last the race distance."

Such is the way of technological development in this sport that if teams were allowed 32mm discs they would immediately fit smaller brake ducts, thus gaining an aerodynamic advantage. The whole thing is an indication of the problem of drawing the line between technology and sport, and what the governing body face when trying to make sensible rules.

One thing nobody was complaining about was the size of the crowd, as the Quebecois flocked through the gates in their droves to a race that almost didn't happen as it was taken off the calendar at the beginning of the season. It is interesting that the absence of the local hero Jacques Villeneuve does not appear to have had the slightest impact on their enthusiasm. Right now a troubled sport needs all the positives it can get.

The man who usurped the French-Canadian former champion's role at BAR Honda was one of the stars on Friday, when Jenson Button took his car round mere fractions slower than Michael Schumacher's Ferrari.

Then Saturday afternoon's prequalifying session saw BMW Williams stage an overdue resurgence after their brake troubles, with Ralf just shading his team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya, followed by Fernando Alonso, Takuma Sato, Jarno Trulli, David Coulthard and Button. Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella rounded out the top 10.

It was business as usual initially come qualifying, however, as Barrichello and then Michael Schumacher set the fastest times (1min 13.595sec and 1:13.355), but a low-fuel run pushed Button to the fore (1:12.341) and then Sato's run, which was quicker than Michael's, ended with a dramatic spin in the final corner when he was lucky not to run into a concrete barrier. He wound up 17th.

With Trulli and Montoya pushing through for second and third spots it was left to Ralf to challenge Button for pole, and this he successfully did, pipping the Briton by less than seven hundredths of a second with 1:12.275. It is the fifth pole of his career.

For Button, it is only the second time he will start from the front row of the grid, and clearly he was back on the pace after earlier yesterday complaining of handling and balance problems with his BAR after the first two practice sessions. His engineers rid the car of its gremlins and after two good practice runs, the 24-year-old had the car hooked up perfectly for qualifying.

The grid is unusual, with Michael Schumacher - after his worst qualifying performance of the season so far - only sixth but doubtless on a much heavier fuel load. He can still win, of course, but it may not be as easy as it was at Nurburgring.

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