Jean Alesi (Jordan-Honda) set fastest time on the opening day of the Japanese Grand Prix, the 17th and final round of this season's Formula 1 world championship. It was a flying start to the Frenchman's 201st and final grand prix. Earlier this...
Jean Alesi (Jordan-Honda) set fastest time on the opening day of the Japanese Grand Prix, the 17th and final round of this season's Formula 1 world championship. It was a flying start to the Frenchman's 201st and final grand prix. Earlier this week he announced that he would not drive in F1 next season, although he might assume a new role within the Jordan team.
Alesi, who spun off at the end of the session, set his 1m 35.454s best while running on a low, light fuel load and he eclipsed Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) by more than half a second. Montoya warmed up for the weekend by staying at the track late on Thursday to sample the roller coasters at the adjacent fun park. His time was particularly impressive because he had never previously driven at Suzuka, which is one of the most demanding tracks on the F1 schedule.
Apart from Montoya, three other Michelin runners posted top-six times. Jaguar team-mates Pedro de la Rosa and Eddie Irvine were third and fifth, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Prost-Acer) was fifth. The German's performance was a major boost for Prost, which lost one car in the first part of the two-hour session after Tomas Enge smashed into the barriers at the 150mph 130R corner. The Czech escaped uninjured, but this was one of two accidents that caused practice to be red-flagged during the day. The other involved German Nick Heidfeld, who crashed his Sauber heavily just before the Dunlop Curve. Like Enge, he escaped unhurt.
Montoya's team-mate Ralf Schumacher was ninth fastest, and best of the remaining Michelin drivers, ahead of Jenson Button (Benetton Renault Sport, 12th), Giancarlo Fisichella (Benetton Renault Sport, 16th), Fernando Alonso (European Minardi, 17th), Alex Yoong (European Minardi, 21st) and Enge (22nd).
World champion Michael Schumacher had a quiet day concentrating on race set-up work and set ninth fastest time. His team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who needs to win to have any chance of beating David Coulthard to second place in the world championship, was 10th. Coulthard set seventh fastest time, despite an off-course excursion.
Pierre Dupasquier, Motorsport Director
You only had a few days between Indianapolis and Suzuka to sort out tyre compounds for this race and decide which to bring. Was that a logistical headache?
"Not at all. We managed to do some testing between the two grands prix in order to finalise our option (B) tyre. We already knew which primary (A) tyre we were going to bring."
Is Suzuka one of the most abrasive tracks on the calendar?
"Abrasive is perhaps not the right word, but it is certainly demanding. We have raced at this circuit a number of times in GT and motorcycle events, but our results have not always been consistent: sometimes we have been extremely competitive, indeed totally dominant, but results have been less positive on other occasions. We have tried to put previous experience to good use and the tyre compounds we are using reflect that. There are many questions that still have to be answered, however. We have done some durability tests today and the results have been encouraging, but it is best not to be over-optimistic. In the past, we have sometimes experienced different levels of performance from one day to the next, and these can be hard to explain."
What similarities are there between the primary (A) and option (B) tyres?
"The two tyres share the same construction, but have different compounds. They vary in terms of durability and the manner of their response to changing temperatures. It won't be easy for teams to make their choice tomorrow. We conducted some back-to-back tests this morning and it appears that the option tyre is faster, although some drivers chose to switch back to the primary to see if they could make it work for them."
Do today's results lead you to believe your technical prognosis for this race was correct?
"Yes, although generally speaking I think we could be a little bit faster in the first sector of the track."