Friday free practice review 04 Jul 2003
The first official practice session for Sunday's French Grand Prix was enlivened this morning by a bizarre collision between Michael Schumacher and Mark Webber - in the pit lane. The world champion left the Ferrari pit right in front of the Jaguar driver when he was waved out prematurely by his lollipop man, but had to stop when he was unable to apply sufficient lock to miss the concrete pit wall. As the Ferrari stopped, at a 30-degree angle, Webber was unable to stop in time on the damp surface and slid gently into him, dislodging the R4's nose.
Practice began on a streaming wet track, which dried gradually as the session progressed. And it began without the BARs as team principal David Richards was unable to overturn a court seizure order on the cars and other assets in time. The cars were subsequently released after a delayed emergency hearing at the Nevers court and Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve are expected to participate as normal in this afternoon's qualifying session.
Predictably there were a number of small incidents during the session as drivers pressed on in difficult conditions. David Coulthard went off track four times, as did Webber, Juan Pablo Montoya, Cristiano da Matta, the Schumacher brothers, Rubens Barrichello and Nick Heidfeld, while Ralph Firman and Olivier Panis both had spins.
Webber was fastest overall for Jaguar 1m 26.915s, well ahead of Ralf Schumacher on 1m 28.082s. Next up were the Renault duo, Fernando Alonso on 1m 28.260s and team mate Jarno Trulli on 1m 28.296s. Apart from Webber's, the times were very close. Immediately behind the Renaults were Antonio Pizzonia (1m 28.442s); Michael Schumacher (1m 28.681s); David Coulthard (1m 28.718s); Olivier Panis 28.773s); Giancarlo Fisichella (1m 28.782s); Heinz-Harald Frentzen (1m 28.803s); and Kimi Raikkonen (1m 28.846s).
Nick Heidfeld lapped his Sauber in 1m 29.317s, with Montoya, (1m 29.608s); Firman (1m 29.640s); Barrichello (1m 29.813s); da Matta (1m 30.791s); Jos Verstappen, (1m 32.091s) and Justin Wilson (1m 32.535s) completing the order.
Though the times appear to indicate a level of superiority for Michelin, it should be noted that lap times were often a function of what time a driver went out, as conditions were changing all the way through. What is certain is that this morning's weather has rendered this afternoon's qualifying, which should be held on a dry track, something of a lottery as far as car set-up is concerned.