Alonso pips fast Massa in Brazilian practice

Alonso pips fast Massa in Brazilian practice

Felipe Massa stuck his Ferrari F2008 atop free practice timesheets Friday right to the end before Renault's Fernando Alonso popped top from the 18th spot in the final minute. Massa, joined at the top for most of the second session by Toyota's...

Felipe Massa stuck his Ferrari F2008 atop free practice timesheets Friday right to the end before Renault's Fernando Alonso popped top from the 18th spot in the final minute. Massa, joined at the top for most of the second session by Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Scudera Toro Rosso's Sebastian Vettel, was staking a claim to his home race, Sunday's Brazilian Grand Prix, that will determine the 2008 Formula One world drivers' and constructors' champions.

Fernando Alonso, Renault F1 Team, R28 and Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-23.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"The day has gone well," said Alonso, 2005 and 2006 world driving champion. "We have been able to complete our program without any problems and we have recorded lots of interesting data. We still need to work hard to improve the car in time for tomorrow, but I'm pleased with my day."

As usual, Friday practice sessions are about tire choice, car handling and chassis set-up so times don't tell a complete story.

Massa topped first practice ahead of drivers' title rival and points leader Lewis Hamilton for McLaren Mercedes. Massa's 1 minute, 12.305-second fast lap -- .19 seconds ahead of Hamilton -- was best of the day before Alonso lowered the mark to 1:12.295. Massa's best of the second session was 1:12.353.

Current world champion Kimi Raikkonen (1:12.600), and Red Bull No. 1 Mark Webber (1:12.650), similarly improved late; they bumped Vettel (1:12.687) to sixth spot and took up fourth and fifth, respectively, in a rain-spotted session on the 2.7-mile Jose Carlos Pace circuit at Interlagos, outside Sao Paolo.

Alonso teammate Nelsinho Piquet (1:12.703), was second-fast Brazilian, in seventh, ahead of Williams runner Nico Rosberg (1:12.761). Only thereafter came Hamilton in 1:12.827, good for ninth.

Trulli, who posted a 1:12.435, did so after spending Thursday evening with a high fever and in doctor's care. The Italian veteran F1 driver was sufficiently ill and he did not appear at the track Thursday for pre-race preparations. He was 11th-quickest in first practice behind teammate Timo Glock, who was 14th and among eight drivers in the 1:13 range.

Jarno Trulli, Toyota Racing, TF108.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"I was ill with the flu yesterday so I took the time to rest in order to help me recover," Trulli said. "Today I have been feeling better and I was able to drive with no problems."

Hamilton spent a good deal of second practice locking up brakes and smoking tires on his MP4-23. The car is sporting a new rear-wing design but engineers are wary of susceptibility to Hamilton's engine, on its second race, after an air pressure problem put teammate Heikki Kovalainen out of the Chinese Grand Prix. Should the team decide to change the engine, Hamilton would incur a 10-place grid demotion. Hamilton can win the drivers' title by finishing fifth Sunday if Massa wins.

Both Ferraris have new engines.

Hamilton's ninth place put him ahead of Rosberg teammate Kazuki Nakajima, who ran 16th-best earlier.

Sessions were run in low temperatures with spitting rain dampening the course by afternoon. Temperatures are expected to rise for Saturday's qualifying, but a threat of rain remains for Sunday's race. A spot of rain can become four inches with amazing alacrity in Sao Paolo. Rain sufficiently affected the 2003 race that it was stopped amid violent crashes when it reached the "official distance" of 54 laps of 71.

Kovalainen, who might or might not have noticed an online poll during the two-week break after China in which nearly 80 percent of respondents say he won't win a world championship, ran fifth-best in the morning, 15th in the afternoon.

Heikki Kovalainen, McLaren Mercedes, MP4-23.
Photo by xpb.cc.

BMW Sauber runners Robert Kubica and Nick Heidfeld, who have delivered the team's targets this season, a victory and third place among constructors, similarly were quicker in the morning than the afternoon. Kubica ran fourth-quick in first practice and 12th later. Heidfeld was ninth earlier and 13th later.

Pegged to the bottom of timesheets were the Force Indias of Adrian Sutil and Giancarlo Fisichella. Rubens Barrichello led Honda, outpacing teammate Jenson Biutton as he has done lately. Barrichello was 14th to Button's 15th in first practice, 16th to Button's 18th in the second session. Toro Rosso's Sebastien Bourdais split the Hondas in the afternoon.

Barrichello, like Bourdais, has not been offered a contract renewal and both would like action from their respective teams on that front. Bourdais has discussed that he understands his weaknesses, especially that he doesn't like the car. Barrichello, wearing a helmet suggestive of that worn by another native Sao Paolo racer, Ingo Hoffman, has rubbished rumors that he will join Indycar racing.

David Coulthard isn't shifting careers from driver to commentator without a final fling. He wore a "helmet cam" in practice. His Red Bull RB4 appears in mostly white special livery as attention getter for Wings for Life charity for spinal injuries research. The Scotsman improved his time from 18th to 11th as the day wore on.

Ferrari leads the constructors' race 156-145 over McLaren with 18 points on offer. BMW Sauber's 135 points offer a 63-point buffer over fourth-place Renault. Toyota is 20 points behind the French team, which has found its strength in the season's later stages. Toro Rosso lies sixth on 34 points on the strength of Vettel, who among a series of consistent performances won the Italian Grand Prix. Red Bull follows on 29 points just ahead of Williams on 26. Honda has 14 points. Force India has not scored.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams , Toyota Racing , Renault F1 Team