Saturday practice - Barrichello pips Trulli 27 Sep 2003
Michael Schumacher's Ferrari lasted fewer than 10 corners at the start of practice this morning before rolling to a silent halt in Turn Nine with a fuel pressure problem. This was just what the world champion needed least, for track time lost these days is notoriously hard to recover in the cut and thrust world of high-speed chassis tuning. As the red car was pushed away by marshals, the champion was forced to cool his heels and wait for the 45-minute session to end, smiling philosophically for the cameramen who soon gathered round to capture the moment.
That first session provided a fourth successive top time for the increasingly impressive Jarno Trulli, who lapped his Renault in 1m 12.408s on a track that had dried after overnight storms. Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were next on 1m 12.468s and 1m 12.495s respectively for Williams, while Rubens Barrichello flew the Ferrari flag alone with 1m 12.510s ahead of Fernando Alonso (1m 12.741s) and the Toyotas of Cristiano da Matta and Olivier Panis (1m 13.098s and 1m 13.306s respectively). Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mark Webber, Justin Wilson and Jacques Villeneuve were all in the 1m 13s, but besides Schumacher, Ralph Firman did only three untimed laps and neither McLaren ventured from its garage beyond an installation lap apiece.
Schumacher did not get going until 23 minutes were left of the second session, as Ferrari fixed his fuel pressure problem, but then showed his undoubted class by setting fastest time on his first flying lap. This was subsequently bettered both by the on-form Trulli (1m 11.124s) and Barrichello. Schumacher reasserted himself to take second place with 1m 11.139s, before Barrichello went fastest again with 1m 11.112s. "We are reasonably happy with the car," Barrichello said, while Schumacher added: "Because the track was a bit damp this morning I didn't actually lose much time."
Montoya, meanwhile, ended his morning fourth, complaining of some understeer and the difficulty of choosing a race tyre. He lapped in 1m 11.232s, but team mate Ralf Schumacher slid off the road in a slow-motion accident in Turn Eight after he had done a 1m 12.060s best. "I just braked too late," he admitted, "and locked the front tyres." He also said he still feels a little dizzy (nothing to do with the accident this morning) but nothing like as bad as he did in Monza.
McLaren was out early in the second session, having elected not to waste tyre life in the so-so conditions of the first. Kimi Raikkonen immediately went fastest but ended up sixth on 1m 11.493s, pipped by team mate David Coulthard, who looked much more like his old self and managed 1m 11.355s.
Olivier Panis spent the morning fine-tuning his Toyota and was pleased with seventh fastest 1m 11.758s, while Cristiano da Matta was 13th on 1m 12.671s and blew an engine right at the end of the second session.
Mark Webber again looked strong with 1m 11.800s for eighth in his Jaguar, and Alonso was a disappointed 10th on 1m 12.135s, unable to dial out his Renault's understeer. Jenson Button staged a late run to 13th on 1m 12.186s to oust Nick Heidfeld's 1m 12.380s, the German reporting that he was much happier with his Sauber's balance.
There were few incidents apart from Ralf Schumacher's off, but both Alonso and Giancarlo Fisichella had harmless spins. Everyone apart from Nicolas Kiesa improved their times in the second session.
With the leading times so close it will be very hard to predict form in qualifying, but Williams' chief operations engineer Sam Michael sounded a warning: "As things are so tight it will be very easy to end up only 10th if you make even a small mistake."
Click here for the practice results in full.