Michelin leads the way again; title contenders outpaced on day one World championship leader Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) got the better of title rival Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) during the opening qualifying session for...
Michelin leads the way again; title contenders outpaced on day one
World championship leader Michael Schumacher (Ferrari) got the better of title rival Kimi Räikkönen (Team McLaren Mercedes/Michelin) during the opening qualifying session for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix -- but they had to settle for third and fifth places respectively on a day dominated by Michelin and its partner teams. Jarno Trulli (Renault/Michelin) set the pace on a warm but grey afternoon. The Italian lapped just 0.062 seconds faster than Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team/Michelin) to secure what s hould, weather permitting, be the most favourable starting slot for tomorrow's final shoot-out. Trulli, who was fastest on the opening day of the United States GP at Indianapolis two weeks ago, was also quickest in this morning's free practice session.
Trulli and Schumacher Jnr headed a clutch of seven Michelin drivers in the top 10. The German said : " Tomorrow's Free practice sessions will be very important to us since we didn't have much running this morning due to some problems and we need some more time to improve our car. However, I think it is looking promising for us so far, a lso thanks to our Michelin tyres, which seem to be very good and can provide an imporant contribution to our performance. "
David Coulthard (Team McLaren Mercedes) was fourth ahead of Räikkönen, Fernando Alonso (Renault, sixth), Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, eighth) and Mark Webber (Jaguar, ninth). Montoya has shone at Suzuka in the past but was unable to string toge ther a particularly clean lap today. Alonso had a spectacular spin at the end of this morning's free practice session but did not damage his car significantly.
Olivier Panis (Toyota, 13th) was quickest of the remaining Michelin runners, from Cristiano da Matta (Toyota, 14th) and Justin Wilson (Jaguar, 15th). Suzuka has been revised slightly since last year but remains one of the most challenging tracks on the F1 calendar. Neither Wilson nor da Matta has raced here before.
The crowd is keeping a close eye on the progress of local favourite Takuma Sato (B*A*R Honda, 11th). Sato will replace former world champion Jacques Villeneuve at the Anglo-Japanese team in 2004. He has started work early, however, because Villeneuve asked to be released from his contract almost immediately once he learned he would not be retained. Sato qualified five places ahead of team-mate Jenson Button.
Pierre Dupasquier -- Michelin Motorsport Director
Michelin and its partner teams made a flying start to the final grand prix meeting of the Formula One season, which takes place on Sunday at Suzuka, Japan. Jarno Trulli (Renault) and Ralf Schumacher (BMW WilliamsF1 Team) annexed the top two places in the o pening qualifying session while David Coulthard (West McLaren Mercedes, fourth) world title contender Kimi Räikkönen (West McLaren Mercedes, fifth), Fernando Alonso (Renault, sixth), Juan Pablo Montoya (BMW WilliamsF1 Team, eighth) and Mark Webber (Jaguar, ninth) also made the top 10.
Michelin's F1 programme manager Pascal Vasselon said: " We are pursuing two world titles this weekend and it is good to see that several of our partner teams and drivers are capable of giving Michael Schumacher and Ferrari such a hard time.
SPEED AND DEPENDABILITY
Pascal Vasselon was encouraged by Michelin's performance on the opening day at Suzuka. He said: " Things have run extremely smoothly for us. Our tyres have been quick and consistent in equal measure. We have taken a big step forward since we raced here 12 months ago. We completed plenty of useful pre-race preparation during this morning's test and free practice sessions. One of our four available dry-weather tyres has emerged as a likely race choice, but our final choice will depend on the track evolution t omorrow. "
130 R: EASY FLAT
The track layout at Suzuka has altered this season. Pascal Vasselon said: " In purely technical terms the modifications haven't caused us any headaches. The biggest difference between this season and last is the 130R, the ultra-quick left-hander, can now e asily be taken flat. That certainly wasn't the case 12 months ago. "