Michael Schumacher was the man at the top of the times after the final practice session for the San Marino Grand Prix, the Ferrari setting a best of 1:23.787 at Imola on Saturday morning. Renault's Fernando Alonso was second quickest, just under...
Michael Schumacher was the man at the top of the times after the final practice session for the San Marino Grand Prix, the Ferrari setting a best of 1:23.787 at Imola on Saturday morning. Renault's Fernando Alonso was second quickest, just under three tenths off, and the sister Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella was third.
Air and track temperatures were in the mid to high twenties at the start of the session as the MF1s of Tiago Monteiro and Christijan Albers led out. The Super Aguris of Takuma Sato and Yuji Ide joined them, followed by Tonio Liuzzi's Toro Rosso and Ralf Schumacher's Toyota. Ralf had electrical problems on Friday and hardly got out on track.
He was the first to set a time, 1:28.374, and Ide took second, over six seconds down. Ide then improved to under four seconds off the Toyota but Ralf was on another lap and dropped his time to 1:27.910. Ide kept plugging away and closed the gap to just under three seconds.
While they were entertaining themselves several other drivers joined the track. The Hondas of Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello posted second and third respectively, then Monteiro took third -- all were over a second off Ralf initially.
Button them improved to six tenths off and Sato clocked seventh behind Ide. Felipe Massa's Ferrari went straight to the top on his first flyer, 1:27.437, and Jarno Trulli's Toyota slotted into second, four tenths down. Button then returned to second, the gap just under two tenths, and Albers took sixth place.
He lost it to Monteiro and Scott Speed's Toro Rosso posted eight. Button took over at the top, 1:27.430, but it was short lived as Massa came back with a 1:26.369 to leave the Honda over a second adrift. Trulli took second and lowered the deficit to six tenths and Jacques Villeneuve's BMW Sauber clocked third.
Button demoted Villeneuve and behind the BMW it was Ralf, Albers, Speed, Monteiro, Barrichello, Ide and Sato. David Coulthard was the first Red Bull on the time sheet when he posted eighth and teammate Christian Klien started with 11th then climbed to fifth. Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren arrived in third but Klien took the slot off him.
Alonso demoted them both when he clocked second on his first flyer, half a second off Massa. Liuzzi improved to eighth then immediately lost it to the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld. Trulli moved up to third and Fisichella started with 11th. Michael's Ferrari took second, three and half tenths off Massa.
Alonso finally shifted Massa from the top spot with a 1:26.140 but Michael was on a hot lap too and posted 1:25.014 for over a second quicker. Heidfeld improved to fourth and Alonso narrowed the gap to Michael to six tenths. Further down the field Nico Rosberg was the first Williams to appear, 14th.
Ralf was next to pick up his pace and shot up from the midfield to go fastest, 1:24.924 for just a hundredth up on Michael. He stayed out and improved to 1:24.667, widening the gap to three and a half tenths. Raikkonen was on the edge of the top 10 along with Fisichella, Villeneuve and Barrichello.
Mark Webber's Williams started with a lowly 19th and Monteiro moved into 14th. Barrichello made a slight improvement to 12th and Webber did likewise to 17th. Trulli and Heidfeld squabbled over fifth and Albers took the 14th slot from teammate Monteiro.
Webber and Liuzzi lapped in formation and improved to 15th and 16th respectively and at the front Michael was back in action and posted 1:23.787 to take over from Ralf by nearly nine tenths. Liuzzi suddenly shot up to fifth and Villeneuve, who had also been midfield, to sixth. Klien improved to take the place off Villeneuve.
Alonso, who was nearly two seconds adrift in third, closed the gap to Ralf to one second. Coulthard went up to sixth and Speed to seventh, and Massa climbed a couple of places to second, six tenths off Michael. Raikkonen was next to make a move and improved from the midfield to clock fifth, then third on his following lap.
With 10 minutes to go only McLaren's Juan Pablo Montoya had not set a time and there was possibly a problem with the car. Barrichello climbed to sixth but Rosberg bought out the yellow flags when he went into the gravel approaching Tosa then hit the barrier. It was a fairly heavy thump but he was unharmed.
Button took the sixth place off teammate Barrichello and Liuzzi was still hanging in there, splitting the Hondas with seventh. Fisichella, who had been keeping quiet just outside the top 10, moved up to second, just a couple of thousandths quicker than Massa. Alonso set a very fast first sector but hit traffic in the middle and backed off.
He went for another try and clocked second, three tenths off Michael, and Webber improved to 12th. In the closing minute Michael looked like he was going to do his party trick of a hot lap right at the end but he backed out of it after the first sector. Montoya never made it out -- fuel pressure was rumoured to be the problem.
It was an active and interesting session. Ferrari still looks on the pace and despite speculation that the reds are running on fumes to get good times at their home race, one mustn't forget how competitive the Scuderia was at Imola last year. Renault looks good but is there a question mark over McLaren's reliability, despite its pace?
Honda, Toyota and BMW looked fairly handy in general and we had the likes of Klien and Liuzzi in the top 10 much of the time as well. Ferrari will be going all out for pole in qualifying but there will be some stiff competition. Final top eight classification: M. Schumacher, Alonso, Fisichella, Massa, Raikkonen, R. Schumacher, Button, Villeneuve.