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BAR spearhead Ferrari challenge 24 Apr 2004

Jenson Button (GBR) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Practice Day, Imola, Italy, 23 April 2004 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Practice Day, Imola, Italy, 23 April 2004 The damaged car of Christian Klien (AUT) Jaguar Cosworth R5 is returned to the pits on a truck after crashing in practice.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Imola, Italy, 24 April 2004 Giorgio Pantano (ITA) Jordan Ford EJ14.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Imola, Italy, 24 April 2004 Felipe Massa (BRA) Sauber Petronas C23 in the garage.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Imola, Italy, 24 April 2004

Michael Schumacher and Jenson Button were almost inseparable in Saturday practice at Imola. The world champion was the fastest man in both of the morning's sessions, but each time it was Button in the BAR who got closest to the Ferrari.

In the first Schumacher lapped in 1m 20.856s, Button in 1m 21.165s, a difference of only 0.309s. In the second it was closer still, Schumacher posting 1m 20.125s, Button 1m 20.150s, only 0.025s adrift

As impressive was the manner in which it was done. In the second session Button was well outside the top 10 after completing his race set-up work, but once the fuel came out he calmly and cleanly banged in the lap that again took him past Renault’s Fernando Alonso (1m 20.844s), McLaren’s David Coulthard (1m 20.84s), Williams’ Juan Pablo Montoya (1m 20.975s) and Rubens Barrichello (1m 20.996s) in the second Ferrari, who had happily been putting in quick times while he toiled. Small wonder that the Honda-powered team have such high hopes for qualifying this afternoon.

Both sessions today were relatively uneventful. The only major incident in the first came when Christian Klien hit a kerb wrong in the Variante Allta at the top of the hill, and was spun into the wall. He removed the rear wing and a couple of wheels from his Jaguar, prompting a spectating team principal Tony Purnell to muse almost to himself: "That's the first damage he's done to the car this year."

Mark Webber was the star for Jaguar, but was only 11th in the first session and 13th, on 1m 21.393s, in the second. Klien got going in the final 15 minutes of the latter and managed 1m 23.222s for 16th.

Out of the top six in the second session, Takuma Sato was a second slower than team mate Button on 1m 21.159s, ahead of Jarno Trulli (1m 21.198s) and Kimi Raikkonen (1m 21.199s). The Italian had a moment in Acque Minerale in the first session, but otherwise had an uneventful morning.

The Toyotas sandwiched Ralf Schumacher, in places 10 to 12. Cristiano Da Matta was quickest of them, in 1m 21.257s to Olivier Panis's 1m 21.296s, while the Williams driver lapped in 1m 21.271s, at one time running very wide exiting Variante Alta but avoiding the Klien fate that also later befell Zsolt Baumgartner. The Hungarian rearranged his Minardi's rear suspension and wing.

After a promising start the Saubers were 14th and 15th, Giancarlo Fisichella just edging out Felipe Massa, 1m 22.022s to 1m 22.077s.

Behind Klien, Nick Heidfeld lapped his Jordan in 1m 23.551s, but team mate Giorgio Pantano (18th ahead of Gianmaria Bruni) stopped out on the circuit with a mechanical problem in the second session.

The odds favour another Ferrari pole position, but BAR are looking very confident. It will be interesting to see if either they, or perhaps Williams or Renault, adopt the strategy of a very short first stint that helped Ferrari on their way in both Malaysia and Bahrain.