RÃ„IKKÃ–NEN STARS AGAIN Ferrari might already have the world championship for drivers in the bag, courtesy of Michael Schumacher's victory in France last weekend, but the Italian team shows no sign of letting up. Its drivers Michael Schumacher...
RÄIKKÖNEN STARS AGAIN
Ferrari might already have the world championship for drivers in the bag, courtesy of Michael Schumacher's victory in France last weekend, but the Italian team shows no sign of letting up. Its drivers Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello narrowly outpaced their rivals during the opening day of practice for the German Grand Prix, which is taking place at the drastically revised and shortened Hockenheim circuit. Schumacher made history by becoming the first Formula One driver officially to complete a timed lap of the track in the morning and at the end of the day he emerged slightly faster than team-mate Rubens Barrichello: his 1m 16.08s lap put him just 0.162 seconds clear.
Track conditions proved to be very slippery and many drivers had spins -- although French GP sensation Kiki Räikkönen wasn't among them. The rising Finnish star -- whose place alongside David Coulthard at McLaren in 2003 has been confirmed -- proved to be Ferrari's closest challenger and fastest of the Michelin runners.
His Scottish team-mate had a relatively limited amount of track time because a technical problem allowed him to complete only six laps during the morning session, but he was still fourth overall and second fastest of six Michelin runners in the top 10 Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, fifth) Eddie Irvine (Jaguar, sixth), Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, seventh) and Allan McNish (Toyota, ninth) were hot on his heels
Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar, 15th) was best of the remaining Michelin runners, from Mika Salo (Toyota, 18th), Jenson Button (Renault, 19th), Jarno Trulli (Renault, 20th), Mark Webber (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 21st) and Alex Yoong (KL Minardi-Asiatech, 22nd). De la Rosa's day was interrupted by an engine failure after nine laps and he returned to the circuit only for the final 40 minutes of the afternoon session. Trulli and Yoong missed most of the afternoon after spinning off and being unable to restart. Both Renault drivers complained of excessive understeer that made their cars tricky to drive.
Michelin's day -- Pascal Vasselon, Formula One project manager
What can you tell us about the new-look Hockenheim? How different is it from a tyre manufacturer's point of view?
"It has nothing in common with the old circuit because average lap speeds have tumbled and the whole track has been resurfaced. Because the new Hockenheim has hardly been used the track was particularly dirty, especially if drivers strayed off line. The grip level went up considerably between the first session and the second and lap times fell by two seconds during the day, which is very unusual."
Did either of your tyre options -- primary (A) and option (B) -- seem better suited to the track than the other?
"Our partner teams all tested both types of tyre but the grip level and weather we saw today are not what we expect to see on Sunday. That doesn't make a final decision easy but we were aware that would be the case before we came here."
How do the two types of tyre differ from each other?
"They are not terribly similar and we still have to analyse how their performance is likely to differ in racing trim. Today we have not been working to find out which is the faster tyre, but rather which will be the more consistent on Sunday."
Nobody has previously raced at this track but you have had to develop tyres that suit its characteristics? How did you go about the task?
"As a basis we relied on computer simulations that our partner teams have conducted to estimate likely lap times and the kind of loads that might be placed on tyres. It is a comparative process and we have also used data that relates to other circuits with similar corners. We used other methods to calculate the nature of the track surface, however"