Saturday free practice review - Austria 17 May 2003
He's been the quickest man at the A1-Ring for the past two seasons, and this morning Rubens Barrichello resumed that position in the final practice session for the Austrian Grand Prix.
The Brazilian did not come anywhere near team mate Michael Schumacher's 1m 07.908s best from qualifying yesterday, but as expected the track conditions had changed with all the rubber put down not just by the Formula One cars but by the Formula 3000s and the Porsche Supercup cars. This caused a lot of head scratching by engineers up and down the pit lane and teams sought to re-optimise their cars.
At the top of the times the honours were split between Ferrari and Williams, the latter living up to engineer Sam Michael's hopes for improvement.
Barrichello had a trouble-free run as Ferrari focused on set-up work and tyre comparison, but Schumacher went off road a few times. "In some spots the track was quite dirty where people had brought dust on to it," he explained, "so it was easy to spin."
At Williams, Michael said: "This is the performance we expected yesterday. Now we just have to get everything right this afternoon." Juan Pablo Montoya's FW25 understeered initially, "but we were able to improve that and the car was much more stable," he reported. "I am happy." The Colombian set second fastest time of 1m 09.301s. Ralf Schumacher was fourth quickest on 1m 09.418s, even though he did not eradicate the understeer completely on his car.
The Renaults were not getting the most out of their Michelin tyres here yesterday, the way that they did in Spain, so the team's engineers spent a lot of time last night re-evaluating the tyre choice on a circuit where they know they cannot rely purely on the R23's aerodynamic excellence.
"We made good progress since yesterday," said Jarno Trulli, who was fifth on 1m 09.704s, "and the changes we made allowed us to get the tyres working better."
Fernando Alonso was ninth with a best lap of 1m 09.923s, after suffering an electronic problem.
BAR's encouraging Friday form continued, with Jacques Villeneuve setting sixth-fastest time with 1m 09.708s and Jenson Button 14th on 1m 10.212s despite losing a lot of time with an hydraulic leak that, while relatively straightforward, proved awkward to reach in order to effect a cure.
"Otherwise it's been a straightforward morning," said technical director Geoffrey Willis. "We worked through the programmes with both drivers and despite Jenson losing time he's very happy with the car. It's the same for Jacques, who got everything done and is looking forward to a repeat of yesterday in qualifying."
There was a suggestion that, once again, McLaren were running with a reasonable fuel load. Kimi Raikkonen was seventh on 1m 09.870s, but David Coulthard was only 15th on 1m 10.222s, and said: "I had a very tricky morning struggling with balance of the car going into the corners."
"We spent the session comparing tyres and working on the race set-up," managing director Martin Whitmarsh said. "Kimi was generally happy with the handling of his car, but David was struggling with corner entry stability. We are working on it. We think we have made some progress but we won't really know until we get the car on new tyres in qualifying this afternoon."
Jaguar remained competitive, but were puzzled by loss of the fine balance the R4 had demonstrated the previous day. "We experienced a big balance shift, which meant that we had to start from zero again," Antonio Pizzonia said. "We don't know why, but maybe it was the track. We had a good balance yesterday, but not today. We haven't got on top of the brake problem that we had yesterday, either, so we'll just have to live with it."
Dr Mark Gillan, Jaguar's chief engineer, said: "Everyone is getting better as they have more track time. We were preparing for the race and will see what happens this afternoon. It wasn't as good as yesterday this morning, but we will see when it counts. You can see people becoming more and more aggressive with their strategies and that may have something to do with it."
Jordan's avowed aim all weekend has been to qualify in the top 10, and Giancarlo Fisichella did his bit to maintain this aspiration with a lap in 1m 10.018s. "I'm a little bit happier with the car but it is proving very difficult to get it perfectly balanced here," the Italian revealed. "If we qualify top 10, however, I will be happy."
Team mate Ralph Firman wasn't as quick today, lapping in 1m 11.413s and surviving an off-track moment in Turn 3 in the morning. Engineer Gary Anderson was cautiously happy, however. "We had no problems with either car and we have been making small improvements while looking mainly at the race strategy. Overall, the car is a bit better,"
At Sauber both Nick Heidfeld and Heinz-Harald Frentzen tried different set-up routes, with limited success. Heidfeld was 11th fastest with 1m 10.044s, Frentzen 17th on 1m 10.456s. Heidfeld, however, felt that his best lap was compromised by yellow flags and was cautiously optimistic for qualifying. "I think we can find something," he said.
That summed up the mood at Toyota too, where Olivier Panis was 13th on 1m 10.076s, and Cristiano da Matta 16th on 1m 10.370s. "Our problems today stemmed from our failure to get a good set-up yesterday," admitted chief designer Gustav Brunner. "It's been hard to get on top of the situation and we only really got the cars sorted out for the second session this morning. But the times are very close, so there is every chance of a good improvement this afternoon."
Finally, at Minardi Jos Verstappen lost a lot of time when a wiring loom problem stranded him for 40 minutes in the first session, but said his car later seemed quite well suited to the track. Justin Wilson was keeping him honest until the end of the second session when he went off in Turn 1. "I lost the car over the kerb and it snapped away and I went head on into the barriers," he explained. "Luckily there was no big damage to the car. Up until then I was quite pleased with progress."