After weeks of anticipation the 2001 World Championship season finally roared into life when the cars headed out to start the first practice session in Melbourne on Friday. The Arrows of rookie Enrique Bernoldi led the way, while Luciano Burti and...
After weeks of anticipation the 2001 World Championship season finally roared into life when the cars headed out to start the first practice session in Melbourne on Friday. The Arrows of rookie Enrique Bernoldi led the way, while Luciano Burti and Eddie Irvine also joined the initial rush out of the pits to signal the start of Jaguar Racing's second season in F1.
The session gave us the first real chance to assess the form book, because it was the first time that all the top teams have run their new cars on the same track. Ferrari and McLaren had avoided each other through February, so nobody really knew what to expect, with the arrival of Michelin further complicating the situation.
And it turned out to be quite a session, with the two regular frontunners again setting the initial pace. But there was a twist, since Rubens Barrichello rather than Michael Schumacher led the Ferrari charge, and Jordan's Jarno Trulli jumped up to a surprise second right at the end.
It was also a day of action. Unfortunately, Burti was the first man to crash in 2001, although he was joined shortly afterwards by both Nick Heidfeld and Schumacher. The World Champion had a spectacular flip after his car dug in a gravel trap, but was unhurt.
By the end of the session Irvine lay 13th, and third Michelin runner, having set a best time of 1m31.573s. A left rear puncture, caused by fouling bodywork, didn't help progress.
"It was marginally better than we expected," said Eddie. "We're probably a place or two places further up than we thought. So we're probably a little bit worse off than we look at the minute."
Burti, who didn't actually drive on the Friday when he made his last minute debut in Austria last year, was back in 18th on 1m33.011s, his accident having cost the final half hour of the afternoon session.
The overall verdict was that this was a solid start for the team, with no major mechanical problems encountered.
"I think we feel pretty good about today," said Bobby Rahal, enjoying his first race weekend as team boss. "We continue to work with the car and it continues to react as it should to changes. Eddie seems to think it's not too bad, and we'll see tomorrow how far up the grid he can put it."
Bobby admitted that the true picture has yet to emerge.
"Trulli and the Jordan are right up there, but it's going to be the tyre groups, isn't it? Frankly, not knowing quite who's on what fuel or whatever, you'd have to say there's not as big a difference between the tyres as we thought there was going to be, at least to my mind."
Eddie was 1.3s slower than Ralf Schumacher, quickest Michelin runner for Williams, but Bobby says that's not significant.
"Again you don't know how much fuel he was on. We spent a lot of time on old tyres. We did put one new set on just to see. Tomorrow we'll know, when everybody's going to be running with no fuel. But so far it's alright."
Luciano was disappointed that his season had started with a bang of the wrong kind. He spun at the first corner, where run-off is minimal, and hit the concrete wall with the right side of the car, damaging the suspension.
"It was okay until I put it in the wall," he said. "The first session was pretty good. I was trying to learn the track. It's quite difficult here because the track gets quicker and quicker. I had a problem with the engine and I probably lost 20 minutes of the session. I just got my left rear wheel on the grass, which spun me round. Unfortunately here there is no room for mistakes. I spun pretty slowly but it was enough to put me in the wall."
This was Luciano's first experience of the Albert Park track.
"It's okay for a street course. I'm surprised how smooth it is." -Jaguar-