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Saturday free practice review - Spain 03 May 2003

Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R23 
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 8 March 2003

Finding a decent balance and preserving tyre efficiency have again been the key endeavours among the Formula One fraternity in Barcelona today, where a rise in track temperature in the second half of the practice session from 17 to 27 degrees C created inconsistent track conditions that taxed everyone's set-up ingenuity.

Yesterday similar conditions were so vexing that Ferrari mistakenly thought there was a problem on the F2003-GA because it lacked traction. Other teams reported similar sentiments.

"I can see the race being similar to Imola, with some teams going for two stops and some three," Kimi Raikkonen said.

That being so, Renault, with first and third fastest times, could be a candidate for another three-stopper. Fernando Alonso delighted his countrymen with fastest time of 1m 17.760s, while Jarno Trulli recorded 1m 18.263s. Both were happy with their cars and their tyres. Asked whether the Anglo-French cars could start from the front row, engineer Pat Symonds merely said: "It all depends on what strategy our rivals adopt."

Rubens Barrichello again showed strongly against Michael Schumacher despite a brief spin early on, with second fastest time of 1m 18.214s compared to the champion's 1m 18.623s, which was fourth best. The Italian team did a lot of mechanical set-up work and reported few problems.

Toyota is also looking good. Panis likes both of Michelin's tyres and the team is now analysing the data to see which will be the better compromise for qualifying and the race. The Frenchman reported a slight handling problem, while team-mate Cristiano da Matta said his car was possibly not as good as it was yesterday; both are quietly confident, however. Panis was fifth on 1m 18.985s, da Matta 11th on 1m 19.342s.

At McLaren Mercedes there is still a fair degree of head-scratching over tyre choice. Coulthard said his MP4-17D felt nervous, while Raikkonen was not 100 percent happy with his car's balance.

Jenson Button was pleased with eighth place for BAR Honda, but though Jacques Villeneuve said his 005 was much better than yesterday he spun it and backed it heavily into the wall in Turn 12 right at the end of the session. Button lapped in 1m 19.159s, Villeneuve in 1m 19.525s.

The Jaguars were closer together than they have been all season, as Antonio Pizzonia chased Mark Webber. The Brazilian was fastest for most of the first half of the session, an ended up 10th on 1m 19.262s. Webber was ninth on 1m 19.172s, reporting that the harder Michelin felt good but displayed a great performance drop-off than the softer compound.

Sauber Petronas continues to struggle to find a decent balance on the C22. While Frentzen was 13th, cautiously optimistic for qualifying, Heidfeld admitted that he was struggling again for balance just as he had at Imola and was only 20th on 1m 20.349s compared to Frentzen's 1m 19.729s.

Jordan suffered badly as the temperature rose, and engineer Gary Anderson admitted that while the team had an idea what to change to effect an improvement, the reality of being able to do that was not so simple. Fisichella was 14th on 1m 19.773s, Firman 19th on 1m 20.298s.

You may be wondering why BMW Williams has yet to be mentioned. That's because severe oversteer problems, a spin for Ralf and a gravel bed visit for Montoya kept the white and blue cars in 15th and 16th places. Small adjustments to tyre pressures and wing angle partially helped to tame the imbalance in the latter half of the session.

At the back, Jos Verstappen just shaded Minardi team-mate Justin Wilson by 15 hundredths of a second.

With the track temperature still rising, qualifying will continue to test the teams to the full this afternoon.