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Saturday practice review - Williams to the fore 11 Oct 2003

Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW25 
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Japanese Grand Prix, Suzuka , Japan, 10 October 2003

Williams left Ferrari wondering just how much fuel Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were running during this morning's two practice sessions at Suzuka, after they set the fastest times of 1m 31.149s and 1m 31.422s respectively and left Michael Schumacher only third on 1m 31.705s.

"It was a very useful session," Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn said. "We made out tyre choice and did some race preparation, and I just hope Williams was running less fuel than we were."

Ralf Schumacher initially found his FW25 nervous but set-up changes cured that, while Montoya began with understeer, which was gradually ironed out.

"We did our homework and chose our tyres," said technical director Patrick Head. "Each driver had a different set-up but they were both quite pleased with their cars. It's going to be very tight this afternoon and the decisive factor will be fuel load. Our biggest worry is the possibility of rain tomorrow."

Montoya had a scare when Fernando Alonso's Renault blew up at Degner near the end of the session and coated the track in oil. He just missed the tyre wall after sliding off on the lubricant.

Schumacher's best left Jarno Trulli and Rubens Barrichello in fourth and fifth places. The Italian said he had no problems on his way to 1m 32.343s, and was happy with his Renault's balance. The opposition had simply caught up. The Brazilian was happy with his car on old tyres but found it had a mixture of oversteer and understeer on new Bridgestones.

It was a disastrous morning for McLaren. Kimi Raikkonen made a mistake after only seven laps in the first session, sliding off in the second part of Turn One and clobbering the outer tyre wall. He was okay but his car will now assume spare status. The team then sacrificed David Coulthard's chances by putting Raikkonen in his car for the second session. That's allowed, but not use of the spare, so Coulthard kicked his heels for the 45 minutes as Raikkonen's race car was too badly damaged to fix. The Finn's 1m 32.930s best came after only a lap or so in Coulthard's car, and later his attempt to go quicker was frustrated by Alonso's oil. He finished sixth, the unfortunate Coulthard 16th overall on the strength of his first session time of 1m 34.309s, which had then been ninth fastest. Not surprisingly, he did not have any comment to make on his morning.

Toyota is cautiously optimistic of qualifying in the top 10 in this most important race for the Japanese manufacturer. After a lot of hard work overnight Olivier Panis said his TF103 was much better as he recorded 1m 33.082s for seventh place, while Cristiano da Matta said his felt "much more connected" on his way to ninth on 1m 33.133s. Alonso separated them on 1m 33.107s.

Jenson Button completed the top 10 for BAR, another team on its mettle on the engine manufacturer's home ground (Honda actually owns the Suzuka Circuit). Technical director Geoff Willis reported that the Englishman had made up most of the time he lost on Friday with his engine breakage, and said that the BARs were pretty much where they wanted them to be. Button lapped in 1m 33.41ss, Takuma Sato in 1m 33.662s for 11th place.

Sauber also said it was on target, which meant being right behind its principal opposition (BAR) if it couldn't be ahead of it. Heinz-Harald Frentzen did 1m 33.694s in his C22 in the second session, while Heidfeld relied on his previous session time of 1m 33.749s for 13th overall after doing a different tyre programme in the second.

Mark Webber warned not to expect fireworks from Jaguar in qualifying, and there were certainly none in practice as he and Justin Wilson ran with high fuel loads. The latter also did a long tyre run, though the choice of Michelins had been made overnight. Webber lapped in 1m 33.807s, Wilson in 1m 33.952s, the closest they have been since Hockenheim. Webber, like Montoya, went off on Alonso's oil. "I nearly binned it," the Australian reported.

At Jordan Giancarlo Fisichella regained the upper hand over Ralph Firman, but not by much as they lapped in 1m 35.476s and 1m 35.620s respectively (more than two seconds off the team's 2002 qualifying pace). Both reported lack of grip, and Fisichella's engine was changed as a matter of routine as he complained of lack of straight-line speed.

Finally, Jos Verstappen outran Nicolas Kiesa in the Minardi camp, the Dutchman lapping in 1m 37.379s as the Dane reduced the deficit to his more experienced team-mate with 1m 37.884s.

Click here for the practice results in full.