It was cloudy grey morning for the first free practice of the German Grand Prix where 2002 world champion Michael Schumacher was greeted by huge cheers from his home crowd. Ferrari continued their form, Rubens Barrichello top and Schumacher second...
It was cloudy grey morning for the first free practice of the German Grand Prix where 2002 world champion Michael Schumacher was greeted by huge cheers from his home crowd. Ferrari continued their form, Rubens Barrichello top and Schumacher second fastest, their times over one and a half seconds quicker than the rest of the field at one point. Both finished in the 1:16s bracket, the only two drivers to do so.
The newly redesigned Hockneheim circuit was fairly dry despite earlier rain and track temperature was around 20C. Most teams were out for installation laps as soon as the session opened; Toyota's Allan McNish set the first time of the day, a 1:21.851. As usual it was Toyota and Minardi that put in the early running, along with the BAR of Olivier Panis but initially the drivers were acclimatizing to the new track layout.
Arrows managed to take part this time around, Enrique Bernoldi once taking the fastest time before being eclipsed by Sauber's Felipe Massa then McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen in quick succession. Bernoldi's team mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen must have been relieved to be able to participate in his home race and put in a respectable performance to finish tenth.
The times dropped rapidly, with the Ferraris taking it down into the 1:17s when they went to work and into the 1:16s by the end. Sauber ran well, Massa and Nick Heidfeld in the top six most of the time although Heidfeld had some understeer caused by the Bridgestone tyres graining slightly. McLaren were rather quiet, as were Williams, both teams not particularly noticeable. David Coulthard had some problems with his car and only managed six laps although Raikkonen was consistently in the front runners.
The Jaguar's again showed well, Eddie Irvine and Pedro de la Rosa in the top ten half way through but de la Rosa retired with a blown engine in the last twenty minutes. As seems to happen regularly in practice, Jacques Villeneuve didn't match the pace of BAR team mate Panis, the Canadian eventually stopping with a technical problem. Panis was very strong, splitting the two Ferraris at the top at one stage, the only driver to manage it.
Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella was fit enough to drive after his big crash in France last weekend and was consistently in the top ten while Takuma Sato had a slow start. Early on Sato was way down the field but he picked up later on. Renault also had a slow start; all the Michelin runners seemed to be working hard in the cooler conditions, the Bridgestone shod teams had the edge with eight of the top ten.
The new track didn't seem to present any problems: both Schumachers had minor spins, Coulthard and Massa were a bit messy occasionally and Fisichella lost a barge board after running wide but no real difficulties. Toyota improved to run towards the front of the midfield while Minardi bought up the rear. Final top six classification: Barrichello, M. Schumacher, Panis, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Montoya.