Toyota third driver Ricardo Zonta took over at the top of the times in the second free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, his best a 1:30.682. In a session disrupted by rain in the latter stages, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari was second fastest...
Toyota third driver Ricardo Zonta took over at the top of the times in the second free practice for the Japanese Grand Prix, his best a 1:30.682. In a session disrupted by rain in the latter stages, Michael Schumacher's Ferrari was second fastest and McLaren No.3 Pedro de la Rosa was third. De la Rosa's top time in the morning remained the best of the day, a tenth and a half up on Zonta's quickest of the afternoon.
It was dry at the start of the practice and the air temperature remained much the same as the morning session, although the track had dropped about ten degrees. Once again the third drivers started proceedings, Jordan's Sakon Yamamoto leading out Zonta and de la Rosa. Several race drivers also took to the track, as did Red Bull No.3 Tonio Liuzzi.
Zonta was first on the time sheet with a 1:31.889, with de la Rosa, Yamamoto and the Minardi of Robert Doornbos slotting in behind. Liuzzi took the second place while Christijan Albers' Minardi, the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher and the Jordans of Tiago Monteiro and Narain Karthikeyan followed on. Yamamoto improved to third and de la Rosa to second, while Toyota's Jarno Trulli started with seventh.
Ralf moved up to third, then the Williams of Antonio Pizzonia took the slot, and Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve was sixth. The second Williams of Mark Webber arrived in second, two and a half seconds off Zonta, and Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari clocked 13th initially. The BAR of Jenson Button was eighth and Michael Schumacher's first effort put his Ferrari second, still over two seconds off Zonta.
Barrichello climbed to sixth and Felipe Massa's Sauber posted 12th on his first flyer. Takuma Sato put his BAR seventh and Christian Klien's Red Bull clocked 13th, then de la Rosa improved to second but couldn't break the two second gap to Zonta. Klien moved up to ninth and Kimi Raikkonen, who suffered an engine failure in the morning, put his McLaren seventh on his first flyer.
Zonta lowered his time fractionally to 1:30.682 and Raikkonen moved up to second, while Liuzzi retired in the final sector with a suspected engine failure. Trulli improved to fifth, one behind teammate Ralf, and de la Rosa took the second spot 1.5 down on Zonta. Massa was improving his time but remained static in 12th and McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya started with a lowly 17th.
Barrichello moved up to fourth and David Coulthard's Red Bull posted 10th, while Michael returned to second, just over a second off Zonta. By half way through only the Renaults had not set a time but quickly rectified that, Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso lapping in formation to clock 14th and eighth respectively. Just about then one or two spots of rain started to appear.
There was a lull in the time sheet activity for a while, quite a few laps being put in but no real changes of position. Yamamoto was next to make a move, up to 16th for a good effort, then Klien dropped the Jordan a place when his Red Bull went one ahead. More inactivity followed, with one or two drivers practicing starts but there was not much action. In the increasing rain Michael had a brief off track excursion but continued.
In the last 10 minutes some drivers ventured out on intermediates but with the downturn in conditions there were no improvements in the times. Toyota looked fairly strong in this session, as did Renault and McLaren but Raikkonen's engine penalty will be a blow to McLaren's hopes of wrapping up the constructors' title this weekend -- although they would need a one-two to do it and have Renault score one point or less.
"I took a risk with my set-up this morning and that gave me too much oversteer on the dirty track," said Zonta. "Then we felt a good improvement before we had an electronic problem. In the afternoon there was the threat of rain so we had to work fast. I was driving the TF105 but the tyre comparison can still transfer to the B car so that is no problem."
Ferrari seemed much improved but the result was more by luck than judgement. "We definitely did better in the second session but the time difference is down to the fact that we were probably the only ones to run on new tyres before the rain came in the afternoon," said Michael. "But the times do not reflect our true position and there is no reason to think we can be stronger than in Brazil."
De la Rosa commented: "Despite the change in conditions especially in the second session we had a productive day. We still can improve the balance particularly for dry conditions. In general I'm happy with what we achieved. I really love this circuit and know it very well from my three years here in Japan. It's a challenging track for the drivers and is all about having the right rhythm to achieve a good lap time."
BAR and Red Bull appeared to be not too far off the pace, while Williams and Sauber did nothing startling, and Yamamoto retained his 17th position as leader of the Jordan and Minardi gang. However, as usual, it's difficult to draw any conclusions from the Friday times. Final top eight classification: Zonta, M. Schumacher, de la Rosa, Barrichello, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, Trulli Alonso.