MAGNY-COURS, France -- The tires were on, the fuel chilled and yet there was nowhere for the Arrows Grand Prix team to go on Friday at the French Grand Prix. For the second race in succession, Arrows-Cosworth was sidelined on the first day of ...
MAGNY-COURS, France -- The tires were on, the fuel chilled and yet there was nowhere for the Arrows Grand Prix team to go on Friday at the French Grand Prix.
For the second race in succession, Arrows-Cosworth was sidelined on the first day of practice. The problem remains an on-going dispute between team principal Tom Walkinshaw and former shareholder Morgan Grenfell Private Equity. In the British Grand Prix an unpaid engine bill kept the team out of Friday practice. Going into this weekend, the team said all outstanding bills owed to Cosworth had been paid.
Walkinshaw, though, was positive the team would take to the track for qualifying on Saturday: "The cars will go out tomorrow, definitely," he said. "Basically, as we speak, there are still negotiations going on in London with investors and the team. We were advised the best thing is to do very little today so that the consequences of anything happening on the track wouldn't interfere with the negotiations."
Walkinshaw is confident the team, home to 1999 French GP winner Heinz-Harald Frentzen, would survive once negotiations with unnamed investors are completed.
Heading the field on Friday was the McLaren-Mercedes duo of David Coulthard. and Kimi Raikkonen. Coulthard's best was 1:14.025 on the 2.64-mile Nevers Magny-Cours circuit while Raikkonen set a time of 1 minute, 14.097 seconds. Both drivers set their best times in the second of the day's two practice sessions.
Even though the McLaren drivers were the fastest, the Michelin runners were cautious about what the rest of the weekend would bring: "If the hot and dry conditions continue I think we can do well, but it really is too early to say, so let's wait and see what happens tomorrow," said Raikkonen.
Come Sunday the major hurdle that the entire grid faces is Michael Schumacher, who has a chance to clinch his fifth World Championship this weekend. The title would put him equal to 1950s Argentine driver Juan Manuel Fangio.
Presently the Ferrari driver, who finished third fastest on Friday with a time of 1:14.240, leads teammate Rubens Barrichello by 54-points in the drivers' standings. If he wins the race and neither Barrichello or Juan Pablo Montoya of Williams-BMW makes the podium, the German will be champion.
Schumacher is still taking it one day at a time: "I think it will be close between us and our main competitors tomorrow, but I believe we are in with a chance of fighting for pole position," he said.
Barrichello, fourth fastest at 1:14.750, said he is also confident going into qualifying. "Tomorrow we will be fighting for places on the front two rows," predicted Barrichello, who was fastest in the first free practice session.
Michael's brother, Williams-BMW driver Ralf Schumacher, was fifth with a time of 1 minute, 14.970 seconds.
There was bright sunshine on Friday with temperatures in the high 70s. The track was dusty, with several drivers spinning, including Michael Schumacher at the end of the second free practice session. Montoya damaged his car when he spun through a gravel trap.
Others to struggle on the track were Renault's Jarno Trulli, who crashed out of the second free practice, Jordan-Honda's Takuma Sato and Giancarlo Fisichella and Alex Yoong of Minardi-Asiatech, all three spinning while out on the circuit.
The top 10 was rounded out by Eddie Irvine in the Jaguar-Cosworth, Mika Salo in the Toyota, Pedro de la Rosa in the second Jaguar-Cosworth, Jenson Button in the Renault and Montoya.
As has been the case for much of the season, Toyota ran well on Friday, with Salo seventh despite an engine failure in the second free practice and teammate Allan McNish in 11th. McNish's 2003 seat in the team could be up for grabs, with the team announcing this weekend that a decision on next year's line-up would be made in August.
"Allan is doing a reasonable job with us. It's the first year in Formula One for him," said Toyota's team manager Ange Pasquali. "For sure it's not easy and he's also been unlucky. Yes, Allan is doing a reasonable job with us and good technical feedback during tests, so at the moment there is no emergency."
McLaren's managing director Martin Whitmarsh said on Friday that the team would make an announcement about its own 2003 driver line-up at the German Grand Prix, to be held next weekend. Both Raikkonen and Coulthard are expected to return. Mika Hakkinen, World Champion for McLaren in 1998 and 1999, took a sabbatical this season, but speculation has been that he will not return to the sport.
For Coulthard, beating the Ferraris on Friday was a welcome moment after the disappointment of his home Grand Prix of two weeks ago in Great Britain. The Scotsman finished a distant 10th in that race and, in the race before, the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, was out after a crash with Montoya. Coulthard's only 2002 Grand Prix victory came at Monaco in May.