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Saturday free practice review - Monaco 31 May 2003

David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/17D.
Formula One World Championship, Rd7, Monaco Grand Prix, Monte-Carlo, Monaco, 29 May 2003

The heavy shunt suffered by BAR driver Jenson Button dominated today's practice sessions in Monte Carlo. The 23 year-old Englishman lost control of his car on the 290 km/h (180 mph) approach to the chicane and hit the tyre wall in the escape road, side on at high speed. He was taken to the nearby Princess Grace Hospital for medical checks, and first reports indicate that these are only precautionary.

Button's accident happened just after practice started following the mid-session break. Prior to that Kimi Raikkonen had become the first man to break the 1m 16s barrier with a lap of 1m 15.752s for McLaren. Behind him, Juan Pablo Montoya, Mark Webber, Michael Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Rubens Barrichello, Button, Jacques Villeneuve, David Coulthard and Ralf Schumacher were all in the 1m 16s, covered by only three-tenths of a second.

Prior to Button's shunt, the only other incident of note came when Fernando Alonso nosed his Renault into the wall exiting the Swimming Pool and removed the right front wheel, having earlier stopped inches from the barrier in a separate incident at Rascasse.

At the end of the second session McLaren and Michelin had good reason to smile when David Coulthard topped the times with a superb lap in 1m 14.747s, comfortably ahead of Montoya, who did a 1m 15.098s for Williams, resisting Michael Schumacher's last-minute 1m 15.255s. Ralf Schumacher, Jarno Trulli, Kimi Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber also enjoyed strong showings as they broke into the 1m 15s bracket.

Coulthard was happy with his chassis, and said: "Now we are going to change the engine and will have to see if it all goes back together and we have the same result this afternoon. In qualifying, however, the way things are now, you have to always keep a little bit in reserve and be a little bit careful."

Raikkonen used his new tyres early in the session, when he was fastest, but then saw others go faster as the track got quicker.

Both Ferrari and Williams enjoyed trouble-free sessions, the former focusing on set-up work after making its tyre choice on Thursday. Williams said its FW25 was a lot better after some dramatic set-up changes since Thursday. "My car was easy to drive, and I'm very happy with it," Montoya said. Ralf Schumacher was troubled initially by understeer, which was mostly eradicated by the end.

In the Renault camp, Trulli was happy with his morning's work after finishing the session in fifth place. Team mate Alonso was less satisfied after his brush with the Monaco walls left him languishing in 14th.

At Jaguar, Webber said of his morning: "We did a lot of laps, the balance was pretty good, but we can't operate at times of those ahead. If we stay where we are this afternoon, we'll be happy."

Giancarlo Fisichella was ninth for Jordan, feeling pretty happy after working on tyre choice and set-up. He finished ahead of the BARs, Jacques Villeneuve edging out the absent Button but bashing his right rear suspension on the barrier after a big slide exiting Tabac.

Both Sauber drivers struggled with less than optimal balance, while the Toyotas appeared to lack grip no matter what the team tried.

At the back, but within striking distance of Sauber and Toyota, the two Minardis were separated by their usual couple of tenths, with Jos Verstappen just ahead of Justin Wilson.