Michael Schumacher was the man at the top of the time sheet in Saturday morning's last practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver clocked a best of 1:34.126 but the Renaults were looming menacingly behind him. Fernando...
Michael Schumacher was the man at the top of the time sheet in Saturday morning's last practice session for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The Ferrari driver clocked a best of 1:34.126 but the Renaults were looming menacingly behind him. Fernando Alonso was just half a tenth off and Giancarlo Fisichella was third fastest.
It was a warm start to the day, with the air temperature in the mid thirties and the track edging into the forties. MF1s Christijan Albers was first to put in an appearance, then teammate Tiago Monteiro and the Super Aguris of Yuji Ide and Takuma Sato. Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso followed on as the drivers started their installation laps.
Red Bull's David Coulthard and Ferrari's Felipe Massa were next out; rumour has it that, due to their engine change penalties, one or both of them may opt not to run in qualifying. We saw in Bahrain with McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen that fuelling up and starting from the back can get you home on the podium. Can -- not necessarily will.
Massa was first to set a time, 1:37.444, and Coulthard was over second down on the Ferrari. Toyota's Jarno Trulli ousted the Scot from second by an only marginally smaller gap, but then Coulthard took it back and Trulli was dropped another place by his teammate Ralf Schumacher.
Alonso put his Renault at the top on his first flyer, 1:36.989, and Monteiro and Albers slotted in behind the Toyotas. Toro Rosso's Scott Speed split the MF1s in seventh and Alonso improved to 1:36.485. Massa and Coulthard traded second and Jenson Button's Honda clocked seventh.
The second Renault of Fisichella took third then Button and Massa moved up to second and third respectively. Honda's Rubens Barrichello started with ninth then improved to seventh and Fisichella reasserted himself for second, just six hundredths off Alonso. The Italian then went to the top with a 1:36.066, four tenths up.
Jacques Villenueve was the first BMW Sauber on the time sheet in eighth and Christian Klien's Red Bull took fifth on his initial effort. Raikkonen went one better for fourth when he appeared and Villeneuve improved to second to split the Renaults, two tenths off Fisichella.
Liuzzi clocked seventh and Michael Schumacher began with a lowly midfield spot, then revved up with fastest sectors in one and two to go to the top with a 1:35.985. Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber posted fifth and Monteiro improved to 13th, while Michael lowered his top time to 1:35.729.
Ralf took over at the top, 1:35.040 for seven tenths up on the Ferrari -- a notable effort from Toyota after the team's sluggish efforts in Bahrain. Nico Rosberg was the first Williams on the time sheet and posted 10th and with half an hour gone only his teammate Mark Webber and McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya hadn't set a time.
Montoya rectified that shortly afterwards and managed a sedate 18th, followed by Webber's more energetic 12th. Coulthard improved to second and teammate Klien, who had been idling in the midfield, had a hot lap to storm to the top with a 1:34.815. Interesting moves from Red Bull. Ralf responded with another quick effort but had to settle for second.
Coulthard was third and Michael fourth, while Fisichella and Villeneuve made up the top six. Then came Rosberg, Alonso, Heidfeld and Webber to complete the top 10. Michael went up one to third and Raikkonen one better for second, the gap to Klien just four hundredths. Ralf also improved, to third, and Webber to sixth.
Michael removed Klien from the top spot with a 1:34.126, seven tenths up, and Alonso was next on a flyer and took sixth after being moved down the order. Massa was putting in a fair few laps in the midfield, up to 21 with 10 minutes to go, the most of anyone at the time. Button, who had been demoted outside the top 10, went up to second, half a second off Michael.
Barrichello, who had been loitering practically at the back, improved a few places to 14th. Massa had a bit of an off-track excursion but recovered, while Montoya was a bit of a mystery down in 20th. He made a similar rather vague effort to Barrichello and moved up to 15th, one behind the Honda.
In the final five minutes Trulli climbed to seventh and Alonso to second, five hundredths off Michael. Fisichella put in a late effort to move up to third and really it was Renault that looked the strongest in this session. However, Michael remained at the top, if only marginally.
It was a slightly curious morning; Ferrari was split with Michael fastest but Massa down in 17th and McLaren was a similar state of affairs with Raikkonen sixth and Montoya 16th. Likewise Honda had Button fourth and Barrichello 15th -- make of all that what you will. Red Bull and Toyota finished with both cars in the top 10.
Renault or Michael possibly look favourite for pole in this afternoon's qualifying but there's plenty of scope for it to be any one of half a dozen. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Alonso, Fisichella, Button, Klien, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, Rosberg.