Alonso fast in France, Massa faster in practice

Renault driver Fernando Alonso pleased the home crowd and visiting Spanish fans Friday with fastest lap in second free practice for the French Grand Prix. But Ferrari's Felipe Massa posted quickest time of the day in the first session. Alonso's 1...

Renault driver Fernando Alonso pleased the home crowd and visiting Spanish fans Friday with fastest lap in second free practice for the French Grand Prix. But Ferrari's Felipe Massa posted quickest time of the day in the first session. Alonso's 1 minute, 15.778 could not supplant Massa's blistering 1:15.306 at Circuit de Nevers at Magny-Cours.

Massa led a first-practice effort that restored order and put Ferrari and McLaren Mercedes ahead of would-be usurpers. Then along came Alonso. Coming off chauffering duties for boss Flavio Briatore and new bride Elisabetta Gregoraci in Rome last Saturday, the Spaniard was sixth-best in the opening session at 1:16.400. Alonso posted his chart-topping, second-session time after the R28 blew an engine in first practice.

Massa came second in second practice, giving credence to assertions by Ferrari drivers Massa and Kimi Raikkonen that France is the place to restore order. Still, both Ferrari drivers were among those taking the expeditionary route through the long right-hand Estoril Curve. Raikkonen posted third-best second-practice time after running fourth-quickest at the first go Defending race champion Raikkonen lost his World Drivers' Championship series lead after Monaco to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, who in turn was overtaken by BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica, winner in Canada. BMW Sauber has jumped ahead of McLaren Mercedes to trail Ferrari in the constructors' championship.

Showing the consistency that has delivered the championship lead, Kubica was fifth-quick then sixth-quick in the two practices. A misfire affected his F1.08 in the afternoon. "The balance of the car was a bit strange and, therefore, it was quite difficult to drive," he said. Kubica again shaded his older teammate, Nick Heidfeld, who trailed in ninth and eighth, respectively.

In addition to Alonso leaping up the charts, Renault's Nelsinho Piquet improved by a half-second to move from 11th to ninth.

Scuderia Toro Rosso youngster Sebastian Vettel improved from eighth to fifth as he clipped a half-second off his time. The German's French teammate, Sebastien Bourdais, knocked nearly a full second off his time from first practice to second but it left the four-time Champ Car series champion -- thus default American favorite -- no better than 13th in the afternoon. Off-track, talk generated by F3 team Ultimate Motorsports swirls that talks are on for Ultimate to buy into the Toro Rosso team, the Red bull-owner's Dietrich Mateschitz half of which is for sale. Former racer Gerhard Berger also owns half.

Hamilton, who along with Williams driver Nico Rosberg faces a 10-spot grid penalty for a pit-lane collision in Canada, did not improve his 1:16.002 set in first practice. He added two-tenths in second practice. His McLaren Mercedes teammate, Heikki Kovalainen, also slowed, falling from fourth in the morning to seventh by afternoon.

Ominously for Rosberg's race chances, the German could not reach the 10 quickest. His morning time of 1:17.394 improved to 1:16.682, good for 11th. His teammate, Kazuki Nakajima, improved by a half-second, from 1:17.696 to 1:17.002, to 14th place.

Toyota's Jarno Trulli could trim but a thousandth of a second from morning to afternoon as his teammate, Timo Glock, slowed by two-tenths, dropping from 10th to 15th on time charts. In addition to tire evaluation and setup considerations that all teams do, Trulli tested a proposed system that would change safety-car rules. Drivers would receive in-car notification of a safety-car appearance and would have to slow lap times accordingly.

Red Bull drivers David Coulthard and Mark Webber grouped at 12th and 13th, respectively, through the first session. Coulthard, coming off a podium finish in Canada, brushed six-tenths off his time from morning to afternoon while Webber could manage only a tenth.

Honda and Force India languished in the nether regions well off pace. None of the four drivers could clock a lap faster than 1:17. Jenson Button came closest in his Honda RA108 with a 1:17.244 in the afternoon practice, sufficient for 17th. Rubens Barrichello slowed from morning to afternoon, finishing 19th with a 1:17.591 after posting a 1:17.491 earlier.

Force India's Giancarlo Fisichella ran a 1:17.394 that left him in 18th after second practice. "The grip level was quite poor in both sessions and we had some understeer in the high-speed corners," Fisichella said. "We also compared the tires and the softer compound works OK, but it will still be a difficult weekend."

Force India's Adrian Sutil was planted at the bottom of time charts, running no faster than 1:17.868 in second practice. "Overall, it was such not a great day as we had a few small technical problems today," he said. "The main issue was with the brakes and then the tires overheating. I was struggling under braking, and this morning I lost a lot of the session. In the afternoon the track was slower as the temperature increased and it was difficult to get the tires to work well again, but now we have found the problem and can get it fixed for tomorrow."

Thunderstorms are predicted through the weekend. Most rumbling, though, comes from drivers annoyed about the leap in cost of their superlicenses. Approved by the FIA's World Motor Sport Council in January, rates jumped from 1,725 euros (just under $2,700 at mid-June currency rates) and 456 euros ($711) per point won to 10,000 euros ($15,600) and 2,000 euros ($3,120) per point. Talk is drivers will boycott the next race, the British Grand Prix at Silverstone, although Englishman Hamilton has said he will not boycott, and Raikkonen has said he doubts it will come to that. Massa and Raikkonen reacted to the inequality of the amounts as drawn from the points charge. Kubica said, "I think it will be difficult to get all drivers to have the same idea, but we are trying to convince the FIA to reduce the cost."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Giancarlo Fisichella , Jarno Trulli , Rubens Barrichello , Mark Webber , David Coulthard , Nick Heidfeld , Kimi Raikkonen , Fernando Alonso , Gerhard Berger , Lewis Hamilton , Felipe Massa , Sébastien Bourdais , Flavio Briatore , Nico Rosberg , Heikki Kovalainen , Robert Kubica , Timo Glock , Sebastian Vettel , Kazuki Nakajima , Adrian Sutil
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Force India , Toro Rosso , Williams