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Friday qualifying review 27 Jun 2003

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren Mercedes MP4/17D.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, European Grand Prix, Nurburgring, Germany, 27 June 2003

As the weather did its best to disrupt things halfway through the hour-long session, Kimi Raikkonen made maximum use of a dry road to head the Friday afternoon qualifying times here at the Nurburgring.

As the new championship leader it was Michael Schumacher who set the ball rolling, and as expected his Bridgestone-shod Ferrari was a lot more competitive than it had seemed in practice this morning. His time was 1m 30.353s, which remained good enough for second fastest overall.

"I was careful in the first sector and then right on the limit after that," he admitted. "I'm happy with the car." Technical director Ross Brawn, however, said that the F2003-GA was not perfect on low fuel, but was happy that the team has identified a consistent tyre from the options Bridgestone provided.

As second man out, Raikkonen had a small advantage denied him in previous races, when he was the championship leader, and had a trouble-free run to a 1m 29.989s best, which nobody else approached. "Kimi did an outstanding lap and we are confident that we have a very good race set-up," said managing director Martin Whitmarsh.

Though Williams was disappointed with third and fourth-fastest times courtesy of Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, both drivers made mistakes that hampered their laps. Montoya had understeer in the first corner and finished the lap in 1m 30.378s, while Schumacher got the chicane wrong and clocked 1m 30.522s. Chief operations director Sam Michael said he was nevertheless confident that the cars would be good enough to wrap up the front row of the grid once again tomorrow.

Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard were disappointed with only fifth and sixth place respectively. Coulthard ran wide at the first corner. "I needed a bit more experience of the track to have the confidence to push really hard," the Scot said.

The Renaults were seventh and eighth, with Jarno Trulli continuing the trend of practice to edge ahead of team mate Fernando Alonso. Engineer Pat Symonds admitted that they made several changes to the cars and failed to get the best out of them.

Giancarlo Fisichella was the last driver to have an uncompromised run and earned ninth place for Jordan with 1m 32.196s. By the time Heinz-Harald Frentzen got going the track was damp in the final sector and he reckoned he lost four-tenths as a result. Nevertheless he was fortunate, for his 1m 32.201s was good enough for tenth.

When Jenson Button ran the track was slippery and the Englishman damaged his BAR's front wing by clobbering one of the chicane markers and had to be content with 11th best time in 1m 32.479s.

Mark Webber did a slithering 1m 35.972s for Jaguar, catching one big slide up a kerb with some panache, but then the rain really came down. Cristiano Da Matta spun on his dry weather tyres and aborted his lap, Jacques Villeneuve parked his BAR in a gravel trap, and Nick Heidfeld slipped through to set fastest time in the new conditions and to take 13th overall ahead of Ralph Firman and an impressive Justin Wilson.

Jos Verstappen, Olivier Panis and Antonio Pizzonia all admitted to being cautious in the conditions, Panis being particularly frustrated after his sparkling morning performance for Toyota.