McLaren on top in Chinese GP Saturday practices

McLaren on top in Chinese GP Saturday practices

McLaren remained the front runners in the Saturday morning practices for the Chinese Grand Prix, with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya first and second fastest in both sessions. However, they were not getting away from the Renaults, who were...

McLaren remained the front runners in the Saturday morning practices for the Chinese Grand Prix, with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya first and second fastest in both sessions. However, they were not getting away from the Renaults, who were third and fourth in both sessions. Raikkonen's best at the end of the morning was a 1:33.212, about a second quicker than his time in the earlier practice.

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by McLaren.

It was a cool but clear morning at the Shanghai circuit, with track and air temperatures around 20 degrees at the start of the first 45 minute session. The Minardis of Robert Doornbos and Christijan Albers were first out on track, followed by the Jordans of Tiago Monterio and Narain Karthikeyan. Raikkonen put in an early appearance, as did the Williams of Antonio Pizzonia.

Montoya was next out and Pizzonia, who lost track time yesterday due to a suspension failure, was the first to set a time, 1:37.425. He lowered it to 1:35.675 over his next few laps and teammate Mark Webber joined him on the time sheet in second. Toyota's Jarno Trulli arrived in third but as usual it was a slow start to Saturday morning.

Pizzonia's session was short-lived as he bought out the yellow flags when his car spun and stalled in the middle sector. Karthikeyan took fourth and Albers fifth, and Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella was the first of the front runners to venture out. He took over the top of the times with a 1:34.554, while the Toyota of Ralf Schumacher took fourth, one in front of teammate Trulli.

Michael Schumacher's Ferrari posted seventh on his first trip out, and teammate Rubens Barrichello ninth, and Fisichella lowered his top time to 1:34.472. Ralf and Barrichello improved in tandem to third and sixth respectively, followed by Michael into fifth, but nobody was within a second of Fisichella. BAR's Takuma Sato was next to join and took the third spot off Ralf.

David Coulthard put his Red Bull sixth on his first flier and Monteiro joined in 11th, then Coulthard climbed to fourth. Jacques Villeneuve's Sauber took the 11th place and Webber improved to sixth after being moved down, while Villeneuve's teammate Felipe Massa arrived in ninth. Coulthard was still on the move, up to third, and Montoya clocked second when he set his first time.

BAR's Jenson Button managed fourth on his initial flier and Villeneuve improved to 10th. Montoya then took over at the top, 1:34.446, and was immediately demoted by Raikkonen's 1:34.317. Renault's Fernando Alonso posted eighth when he took to the track just a couple of minutes before the end of the session. Webber and Villenueve improved simultaneously to fourth and ninth respectively, then Alonso took fourth.

Right at the end Raikkonen dropped his time marginally to 1:34.253 and the first four were the McLarens and Renaults, Kimi followed by Montoya, Fisichella and Alonso respectively. Webber, Button, Coulthard and Sato made up the top eight, with Massa and Pizzonia completing the top ten. Red Bull's Christian Klien did not set a time in this session.

Conditions remained the same for the second session and after five minutes of inactivity Raikkonen was first out, followed by Sato. Raikkonen clocked 1:34.099 and Sato was 1.8 behind. Raikkonen lowered his time to 1:33.933, leaving Sato over two seconds off and Coulthard arrived in third with an identical time to the BAR. Alonso posted second, half a second down on Raikonen.

Villeneuve joined in fifth and Coulthard moved up to third, while Monteiro made seventh. Ralf took the fifth spot and Montoya was eight hundredths off Raikkonen for second. Trulli joined in ninth and Albers eighth but then lost the place to Monteiro. Fisichella took sixth, Doornbos 12th, Button fourth then Massa 12th in a brief flurry of activity. Fisichella went up one to fifth and Michael posted eighth.

Klien finally got out on track and started with sixth and Massa improved to ninth. Barrichello was a lowly 14th initially then moved up to 12th and Webber began with ninth and improved to fifth. Pizzonia then took the place off him but by half way through it could hardly be called a lively session. Sato, in 11th by then, had done the most laps with nine.

Alonso was next to make a move and took over at the top with a 1:33.918, just one and a half hundredths up on Raikkonen, with Montoya another few hundredths behind his teammate. Button in fourth was nine tenths off. Fisichella improved to sixth after being shuffled down then Raikkonen replied to Alonso with 1:33.880 for four hundredths up. Could it get much closer?

Michael climbed to seventh after being demoted several places, and Trulli to ninth, and Doornbos took 16th to lead the Minardi and Jordan train at the back -- complete with Villeneuve stuck in the middle. Karthikeyan finally took to the track after spending most of the session in the garage and posted 13th, while Klien improved to 11th and Monteiro took over 16th, which left Villeneuve at the back.

Monteiro went ahead of Massa for 15th so Sauber wasn't exactly having a stellar session at that time. Neither was Barrichello in 17th. Montoya ousted Raikkonen from the top with a 1:33.554, the gap just over three tenths, and Coulthard improved to fourth. In the last few minutes Alonso took second, just over two tenths off Montoya, and Fisichella fourth, then Raikkonen bounced back to the top with a 1:33.212.

Barrichello shot up to sixth for the last major improvement and with Michael eighth it was a reasonable morning for Ferrari. Once again it was the Renaults and McLarens at the top and qualifying looks set to be very close. Renault's E spec engine has very good straight line speed and the drivers were just about on the pace of Raikkonen and Montoya this morning.

Pole looks likely to be contested between the four front runners, although Montoya will be running early due to his Suzuka retirement which could compromise him. But you never know… Coulthard did a good job this morning for a top six finish but the rest were by and large unremarkable. Final top eight classification: Raikkonen, Montoya, Alonso, Fisichella, Coulthard, Barrichello, Button, M. Schumacher.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Minardi , Jordan