McLaren drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen set the pace on a quiet opening day at the Austrian Grand Prix, sixth round of this year's Formula 1 world championship. Both have vowed to make up for their disappointment at the previous race in...
McLaren drivers David Coulthard and Mika Hakkinen set the pace on a quiet opening day at the Austrian Grand Prix, sixth round of this year's Formula 1 world championship. Both have vowed to make up for their disappointment at the previous race in Spain, where Hakkinen was denied victory by a last-lap clutch failure and Coulthard was knocked from equal first place in the championship table after finishing only fifth.
Despite a spin early in the second part of today's two-hour free practice session, Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) led the Michelin challenge by posting fourth fastest time, just 0.310s shy of Coulthard. He split the Ferraris of Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher, Ralf's elder brother and the current championship leader. Schumacher Jnr's team-mate Juan Pablo Montoya was 11th. The Colombian was running in the top six before losing some valuable track time when he slid wide and ran off the track.
Of the other Michelin runners, Jaguar Racing drivers Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa were 12th and 15th, ahead of Prost-Acer team-mates Luciano Burti (18th) and Jean Alesi (19th). Burti is returning to the scene of his F1 debut. It was in Austria last year that he received a late call-up to take Irvine's place in the Jaguar team, after the Ulsterman had been ruled out by a stomach upset.
Tarso Marques (19th) was the faster of the two European Minardi drivers, just ahead of team-mate Fernando Alonso. It was a particularly troubled day for Mild Seven Benetton Renault Sport. Giancarlo Fisichella set 21st fastest time and Jenson Button was 22nd. The Englishman missed the final 50 minutes of practice, however, after pulling off the track with his engine bay wreathed in smoke.
Pierre Dupasquier (Michelin Motorsport Director):
The track "It is nothing like Barcelona. We have moved from a circuit that is hyper-abrasive to one that is much easier on tyres. The two tyre compounds we have brought with us are much softer than those we used two weeks ago. It remains to be seen how much track conditions will change during the weekend."
What's new for Michelin in Spielberg?
"One of our dry-weather compounds is completely new, but the other has already been used earlier in the season. This weekend's wet and intermediate tyres are also totally new."
Will teams opt for the harder or the softer option here?
"Our A and B tyres are both working well. Our partners could select either compound for the race, although there is a slight performance difference between the two. That's what we discovered during a series of five-lap runs this morning. If the track conditions don't change, there is a chance that the B compound's wear-rate will be marginal during the race."
And if it rains?
"It is not correct to say that Michelin's rain tyres are ineffective. On the contrary, the company's reputation is founded on its ability to be competitive in extreme conditions. That said, it is true that the tyres that we took to the first few races of the season weren't ideally suited to the wet. But last week we conducted some tests that have led to us producing several interesting compounds."
"This influences the tyres' wear-rate and as a result we would probably have brought different tyres here if cars weren't fitted with traction control. Having said that, all we can do is produce tyres that are suited to the teams who use them."
Will you do better here than you did on the Rally of Argentina?
"We didn't flop on the Rally of Argentina! It's the easiest rally of all for tyres, because there are lots of straights and there is virtually no wear. You do, however, need a car that can attack river fords flat in sixth. This year only the Fords and Subarus were capable of that. The cars running our tyres were afflicted by all kinds of mechanical problems."