It was no big surprise to see Pedro de la Rosa at the top of the time sheet after Friday's first practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix, McLaren's third driver setting a best of 1:30.532. Toyota counterpart Ricardo Zonta was half a second ...
It was no big surprise to see Pedro de la Rosa at the top of the time sheet after Friday's first practice session for the Japanese Grand Prix, McLaren's third driver setting a best of 1:30.532. Toyota counterpart Ricardo Zonta was half a second behind, despite a car failure, and BAR's Jenson Button was the quickest race driver in third.
The weather was dry and the track temperature in the low thirties, with the air in the mid twenties, as the third drivers led out for installation laps. Sakon Yamamoto, behind the wheel for Jordan, de la Rosa, Red Bull's Tonio Liuzzi and Zonta were all quickly to work. Quite a few race drivers also appeared for an initial trip round the Suzuka circuit.
De la Rosa was first on the time sheet with a 1:38.558 and over his following laps he lowered it to 1:33.462. The Williams of Mark Webber joined him after 10 minutes, a second and a half down, followed by Zonta into third and the second Williams of Antonio Pizzonia into fourth. Christian Klien was next to appear and his Red Bull took third.
He was demoted by Zonta taking the place then everyone save de la Rosa got knocked down a position when Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren joined in second. Liuzzi and Yamamoto posted seventh and eighth and Raikkonen improved his time to two hundredths off de la Rosa. David Coulthard's Red Bull arrived in fourth and Liuzzi moved ahead of Zonta.
Webber went up to third but Coulthard took the place off him, while Tiago Montiero was the first Jordan racer on the time sheet in 10th. De la Rosa returned to the track and clocked 1:32.099, which widened the gap between him and Raikkonen to well over a second. BAR's Takuma Sato posted third initially and Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella 13th.
The Minardi of Christijan Albers took the place off Fisichella, followed by teammate Robert Doornbos, then Fisichella shot up to second but was over a second off de la Rosa. Renault's new world champion Fernando Alonso arrived in seventh then climbed to fourth, while Zonta improved his time but stayed sixth.
By half way through the session nobody was within a second of de la Rosa at the top. Sauber's Jacques Villeneuve posted 12th on his first flyer, and teammate Felipe Massa ninth, then Webber improved to second with a gap of one second to the lead McLaren. Button clocked third and Villeneuve took the ninth spot from Massa.
Narain Karthikeyan's Jordan made 16th on his initial effort then went up one to 15th, while Coulthard improved to eighth after being shuffled down the order. Button edged up into the second place and closed the gap to de la Rosa to four tenths. Liuzzi worked his way back up the ranks to 10th then lost the position to teammate Klien.
Juan Pablo Montoya's McLaren appeared in fourth but was demoted a slot by Sato improving to third, then Alonso took the place off the BAR. Raikkonen's car ground to a halt in the first sector with an engine failure -- yet again. Alonso went up another slot to second, followed by Fisichella into third.
Further down the field the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli set their first fliers for 10th and 16th, while Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello put their Ferraris 11th and 14th. Yamamoto led the Jordan/Minardi pack in 20th and the Saubers pottered in the midfield, Massa 15th and Villeneuve 18th.
Button finally ousted de la Rosa from the top with a 1:32.043, just half a tenth up. Barrichello climbed a couple of places to 12th and Pizzonia went up to ninth from somewhere near the back. Liuzzi was still circulating at the low end of the top ten, eighth heading into the last 15 minutes, and Zonta, who had been languishing in the midfield, shot up to the top with a 1:31.075.
He was immediately demoted by de la Rosa's 1:30.532, the gap between them half a second, and Button in third was over a second adrift. Klien improved to ninth after being moved down the times and Zonta was the second retiree, the Toyota coming to a halt in the middle sector with an electrical problem.
Massa climbed to 11th from way down the field, while Coulthard had got his Red Bull in front of the Renaults for fourth. There was scant activity in the final 10 minutes; Villeneuve improved to 15th and Montoya to fifth after being moved down, while Barrichello took 16th ahead of Ralf and Michael. Trulli was 19th so a slow morning for Toyota and Ferrari.
Zonta remained second behind de la Rosa despite his car failure and Button held station in third. The unusual amount of activity for a Friday morning was due to rain being predicted for the afternoon session. Final top eight classification: De la Rosa, Zonta, Button, Coulthard, Montoya, Alonso, Fisichella, Sato.