McLAREN ON FORM IN THE ARDENNES McLaren, Mercedes and Michelin held the upper hand on the opening day of practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, which is almost every driver's favourite track. Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen set the pace with...
McLAREN ON FORM IN THE ARDENNES
McLaren, Mercedes and Michelin held the upper hand on the opening day of practice for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, which is almost every driver's favourite track. Kimi Räikkönen set the pace with a searing 1m 47.196s lap, just 0.160s faster than team-mate David Coulthard. They headed the Ferraris of world champion Michael Schumacher and team-mate Rubens Barrichello. The Brazilian spun off the track in the closing moments of the session but did not damage his car.
Fog in the morning led to the first half of the two-part session being postponed by one hour and reduced from 60 minutes to 30, because conditions were too bad for the medical helicopter to fly. Regulations require this to be on standby before cars are permitted to run.
Once the action began the session proved to be very satisfactory for Michelin, whose partner teams occupied all but two of the top 12 places. Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) was fifth ahead of Jenson Button (Renault F1, sixth), Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar Racing, seventh), Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, eighth), Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing, ninth), Mika Salo (Toyota, 10th), Allan McNish (Toyota, 11th) and Jarno Trulli (Renault, 12th).
De la Rosa bounced back to set his time in the closing moments of the session after a technical problem had earlier caused him to coast into the pits. It was a fraught day for 2001 pole position winner Montoya. A car problem forced him to miss almost the whole of the first session and he ran off the track three times in the second.
Of the remaining Michelin runners Anthony Davidson (KL Minardi-Asiatech) was 18th and Mark Webber (KL Minardi-Asiatech) 20th. Davidson is looking forward to this weekend because it will be the first time he has raced an F1 car at a track he knows. Webber missed the final half-hour of practice because of a car problem.
Elsewhere in the field Olivier Panis (BAR-Honda) and Takuma Sato (Jordan-Honda) suffered spectacular engine failures. There were more serious problems, however, for the still-troubled Arrows team, which missed the last race in Hungary altogether. The British outfit is here this weekend but has yet to fire up its engines. It is in the throes of finalising a takeover deal with an American investment group but it is not known whether this will be completed in time for the team to race this weekend.
Michelin's day: Pierre Dupasquier, Motorsport Director
Michelin and its partners set the fastest two times today and occupied 10 of the top 12 positions. What did you make of the first free practice session?
"I am happy with the way our two dry-weather tyres have performed, because they fulfilled our expectations. One thing I would say, however, is that we always maintain the same point of view on a Friday: it doesn't matter whether our cars are fastest or not, we are fully aware that what happens does not necessarily have any significance in relation to what the result will be on Sunday because teams have not been running with identical fuel loads when they set their best times today."
What can you tell us about your harder, primary (A) tyre and the softer option (B)?
"The primary was not as well suited to today's conditions as the option, but that was to be expected because it is designed to work most effectively in cooler temperatures than those we experienced today."
You left it very late before finalising the tyre compounds you brought to this race. Why?
"We left it until the last possible moment to make a decision because we wanted to obtain the most accurate weather forecasts that were available. The problem at Spa is that you never know whether the ambient temperature in late August is going to be 12 degrees or 30. It might well be much cooler later in the weekend and we wanted to cover all possibilities."
How does Spa-Francorchamps compare to other tracks in terms of tyre wear?
"It is not too abrasive and, despite the high temperatures generated by sustained high-speed running, the rate of wear is only moderate. Like all circuits, of course, it throws up its own special problems -- but that's why we're here. We thrive on such challenges."