F1

Button leads European GP Saturday practices

Button leads European GP Saturday practices

Jenson Button was the man setting the pace in the Saturday practices for the European Grand Prix, the BAR topping the times in both sessions. The only man to break the 1:29 barrier, Button's best at the end was 1:28.827, just over two tenths up...

Jenson Button was the man setting the pace in the Saturday practices for the European Grand Prix, the BAR topping the times in both sessions. The only man to break the 1:29 barrier, Button's best at the end was 1:28.827, just over two tenths up on Michael Schumacher's Ferrari. The second BAR of Takuma Sato strengthened the team's position in third. McLaren enjoyed a competitive morning, Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard both fighting at the front in the second session.

Jenson Button.
Photo by LAT Photographic.

Conditions were cool and dry at the start of the first session and after 15 minutes it was Christian Klien that set a time first. The Jaguar clocked 1:34.232 to start the proceedings, and the Austrian soon bought it down to under 1:34. The pair of Jordans were up next, Nick Heidfeld taking the top spot with a 1:33.652 and Giorgio Pantano slotting into second. Minardi's Zsolt Baumgartner completed the early quartet in action.

Nearly 30 minutes had gone before anyone else ventured out. Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella clocked 1:33.248 and was immediately deposed by Michael's 1:30.420. Fisichella improved his time but stayed second fastest and Michael also improved by a small margin.

Ralf Schumacher topped big brother with a 1:30.192, the Williams a couple of tenths up. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya then took second fastest and the pair of Toyotas slotted into fourth and fifth, Oliver Panis ahead of Cristiano da Matta. The second Sauber of Felipe Massa made seventh, one behind teammate Fisichella. Rubens Barrichello put his Ferrari fourth, so it was a pair of Williams, Ferraris, Toyotas, Saubers and Jordans making up the top ten at that time.

BAR spoiled the formation line up, Button taking the top spot, 1:29.485, and Sato moved into third quickest. Jarno Trulli was the first Renault out, seventh, and Raikkonen the first McLaren, sixth. Fernando Alonso put his Renault eighth on his first effort and with just a few minutes to go Mark Webber's Jaguar made 14th. Coulthard didn't set a time and it remained static at the top, Button, Ralf and Sato in one, two, three.

The track temperature climbed to the mid twenties for the start of the second session and Coulthard was quick to get out on the circuit. He set the first time, 1:30.451, and was followed on the time sheet by Raikkonen, Panis and Pantano initially. Button, Fisichella, Alonso and Ralf traded times behind the lead McLaren, Button coming out ahead, four tenths down on Coulthard. Trulli and Klien were also top ten runners in the first ten minutes.

Michael took over at the top with a 1:30.313, just over a tenth quicker, and Barrichello was 13th on his first flyer. He soon improved to third, then took the lead with a 1:30.165. Raikkonen beat Barrichello by half a second, 1:29.585, the McLarens looking ready for action this weekend as Coulthard went second fastest.

Button and Sato lined up behind the McLarens and Ferraris but Michael put in a flyer that sent him to the top, 1:29.331. Raikkonen improved his time but stayed second -- just two thousandths behind Michael. Button was next to take over, 1:28.827, the first into the 1:28 bracket and half a second up. Ralf, who had been dawdling outside the top ten, improved to sixth and Michael closed the gap to Button to two tenths.

Alonso, who also been in the midfield, went up to fifth in the closing stages, then was demoted a position as Sato improved to third. No incidents this time round, although Montoya didn't set a time in the second session and Fisichella still has the engine penalty from yesterday hanging over him for qualifying. The usual suspects looked strong in the practices and it's anyone's guess what will happen this afternoon. Final top eight classification: Button, M. Schumacher, Sato, Raikkonen, Alonso, Coulthard, R. Schumacher.

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