Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) set fastest time on the opening day of practice for the United States Grand Prix, 16th and penultimate round of this season's Formula 1 world championship. The Finn, who is taking a break from the sport at the end...
Mika Hakkinen (McLaren-Mercedes) set fastest time on the opening day of practice for the United States Grand Prix, 16th and penultimate round of this season's Formula 1 world championship. The Finn, who is taking a break from the sport at the end of this season, lapped in 1m 13.587s, just 0.165s ahead of world champion Michael Schumacher (Ferrari). The top two were ably supported by their team-mates. Rubens Barrichello (Ferrari) was third fastest, ahead of David Coulthard (McLaren-Mercedes).
Eddie Irvine (Jaguar Racing) was quickest of the Michelin runners, in fifth place. "We just worked our way through our programme and did everything we had to do without any problems," he said.
Nick Heidfeld (Sauber-Petronas) rounded off the top six, but the German was only fractionally faster than compatriot Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who has been a catalyst in the recent improved form of the Michelin- equipped Prost-Acer team. All the remaining cars in the top 10 ran on Michelin tyres. Pedro de la Rosa (Jaguar Racing) was eighth, ahead of BMW WilliamsF1 Team drivers Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. Both Williams drivers spun during the day, but each was able to continue. There is a lot of fan support for Montoya this weekend: the Colombian is well known at the track because he won America's most famous race, the Indianapolis 500, in 1999.
Of the other Michelin runners, Jenson Button (Mild Seven Benetton Renault Sport) was 13th, his team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella 17th, Fernando Alonso (European Minardi) 19th and Alex Yoong (European Minardi) 22nd. Fisichella missed most of the second part of today's session after spinning into a gravel trap.
MICHELIN'S RACE :
Pierre Dupasquier, Motorsport Director :
Do the characteristics of this track make your job a little bit harder than it is elsewhere? "No. The track is certainly one of a kind. Part of it is a bit like Hockenheim, albeit without chicanes. Drivers are flat out for more than 20 seconds. But the other side of the circuit is really twisty, more like Budapest. Our task, therefore, is to come up with tyres that are able to cope with these radically different characteristics. It is very rare that you find such a contrast within the confines of one circuit. The surface on both parts of the track is very similar, however, and fairly smooth."
What can you tell us about your primary (A) and option (B) tyres? "The two tyres have different compounds but are quite similar in terms of construction. From what we have seen today, both are working well. We are clearly not far off the pace and overall things look very positive."
Are you concerned that the quickest Michelin car was only fifth fastest? "Not at all. We worked very calmly today and took things one step at a time. All the cars using Michelin tyres managed to cover a healthy number of laps. That was very useful and we have learned a lot. But you shouldn't attach too much importance to today's results, because you never know what people are trying out on Fridays. But one thing's for sure: finding the right aerodynamic set-up at a track such as this is a very fine art. Ferrari and McLaren are perhaps slightly ahead of the game at present, but tomorrow is another day."
Today's fastest lap is already quicker than last year's pole position time. Did you expect the pace to pick up this year? "Yes. Firstly, the tyres used here last year were hard and durable, and intentionally so. But there was only one supplier then and the competition between two rival tyre companies this year has improved tyre performance, which is to be expected. On top of that, traction control which was reintroduced earlier this season tends to have a greater effect at twisty tracks and the major gains in performance here have come on the infield section. It is hard to predict how much faster cars might go tomorrow, because we have no idea what kind of fuel loads the cars in front of us were running today."