By Erica Southey - Motorsport.com
No doubt the focus was on the Jordan and Prost teams with specific attention to Jean Alesi and Heinz-Herald Frentzen after the latter's surprise dismissal from the Jordan team. Frentzen was just as surprised as the fans were, after he got his walking orders via a fax from Eddie Jordan.
With barely eight minutes into the first session Jean Alesi was recalled to the pits by the mechanics while Heinz-Herald Frentzen managed to put a lap time on the board. Frentzen kept going strong throughout the session showing that there is still a lot of spark left in him. At the close of the first session Frentzen finished a fraction faster than Alesi who was clearly in the better car. Round one went to Frentzen. There was definitely a duel between Alesi and Frentzen that was probably seen as the highlight of the free practice sessions despite some spectacular spin-offs by the other drivers. It appeared that round two would go to Alesi, but Frentzen bounced back from 16th to slot a position ahead of Alesi. Alesi thought he'd literally drive the point home by finishing in the top six while Frentzen managed 14th.
Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa put the Leaping Cats into first and second early in the first session while the Arrows of Jos Verstappen and Enrique Bernoldi were well down the order. The Williams of Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher gave fans a short cause for concern slotting into the low mid order, but Ralf soon rectified the situation by moving into the top six. It appeared that Montoya struggled with some sort of problem, because he stayed low down the order despite his good charges around the track. A big surprise was Olivier Panis in the BAR who made it into third place halfway through the session after a very good lap, whereas teammate Jacques Villeneuve found himself in ninth. As expected, the Ferraris and McLarens dominated the first four slots while it was a battle between the Saubers, Jaguars and BARs to fill the remaining six places in the top ten. Lower down the order, Fernando Alonso in the Minardi managed to outdo Luciano Burti in the Prost getting away from the usual second last spot, but Burti reclaimed it towards the end of the session leaving both Minardis to complete the last two positions on the grid. The second session saw a change with Alonso finishing ahead of Burti.
The first to make the acquaintance of Hungarian gravel was Alesi who spun out to put an end to his first session. The temperamental French-Sicilian pushed too hard and went off at great speed. It appeared that since Alesi opted to test the gravel Tarso Marques would give the grass a go before rejoining the track. Ralf decided to follow Alesi's lead and tried out the gravel with far less consequences. David Coulthard thought that curbs were a better prospect, which had him, spun off leaving a stricken McLaren at a dangerous spot after damaging the chassis. The session was stopped to clear the McLaren, which left the rest of the field with an extra four minutes to make the most of what remained of the session. Coulthard was out for most of the second session, because the mechanics couldn't repair his car in time for the second session, after the curb bouncing incident. Talking about a grand exit - Enrique Bernoldi in the Arrows certainly made a lot of the closure of the session when he went into a spectacular spin,while Marques made it two out of two spinning off attempts.
The battle atmosphere between Alesi and Frentzen must have communicated itself to the other drivers because the second session was marked by cars going off. Marques was on some sort of spinning mission when he went off for the fourth time. Was Ralf trying some broad-sliding techniques? The German spun then recovered and went on his way leaving the Michellins rather thin. The award for the the best spin went to Montoya who did a perfect 360 degrees with no consequence. Was he remembering a mathematics class? The spin must have done him well, because he moved up from the low mid order into the top ten but ended in a disappointing 13th spot. The way cars went off started to look like some honorary roll. Not long after Montoya, Giancarlo Fisichella in the Benetton spun off with no option to continue, even Michael Schumacher was finding it hard to stick to the track.
The team showing some consistency was Sauber with Kimmi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld who stayed in the top ten most of the time.
It will be interesting to see the cold war between Prost and Jordan this weekend following the dismissal of Frentzen from the Jordan team and Alesi quitting Prost to take Frentzen's place. This surely must have been a shock for Ricardo Zonta who was said to finish the rest of the season for Jordan.