World champion and Ferrari have a mountain to climb
If this mornings practice times are any guide, qualifying is going to be a very close-run thing in Interlagos this afternoon, but it will be even harder for Michael Schumacher and Ferrari after the German crashed heavily in the closing minutes of the second session.
Going through the Turn Six right-hander the champion lost control over the bumps, caught the sliding back of the car, but then speared off to the left as the car spun in the other direction. He slid hard into the tyre wall, hitting it with the right-hand side of the car.
Schumacher was unharmed, but there was a brief fire due to hot gearbox oil igniting, and the team face a serious job salvaging the engine and getting it installed in the spare F2004. If not, the German will drop ten places on the Interlagos grid.
The first session, run an hour earlier than usual, was held up for 20 minutes while a couple of stray dogs were rounded up, but it was the second session in which the real action occurred.
First, David Coulthard had an embarrassing spin in the pit lane as he came up to the speed limit line, but the Scot soon made amends by becoming the first man ever to lap Interlagos under 1m 11s. He took his McLaren to 1m 10.786s, but that was quickly better by team mate Kimi Raikkonen (1m 10.385s) and then by the inevitable Michael Schumacher (1m 10.352s). Jenson Button also got in on the act with 1m 10.627s for BAR. Just to keep the home crowd happy, Rubens Barrichello then outgunned them all with 1m 10.229s.
It was while challenging his team mates lap that Schumachers incident occurred, and it brought out the red flag with a couple of minutes left to run.
Thus Barrichello headed Schumacher and Raikkonen, but Coulthard improved to 1m 10.413s to snatch fourth from Button, who pared down to 1m 10.480s. Fernando Alonso was next for Renault on 1m 10.683s and Ralf Schumacher was the last of the aces on 1m 10.997s in his Williams.
Takuma Sato was eighth on 1m 11.127s, just edging out Mark Webber (1m 11.130s) and Felipe Massa (1m 11.142s), who completed the top 10.
Juan Pablo Montoya struggled on his way to 1m 11.157s, and Jacques Villeneuve was 12th in the second Renault on 1m 11.321s as he continued to reacclimatise himself with Formula One racing. The man he replaces at Sauber next year, Giancarlo Fisichella, was next, on 1m 11.425s. Toyota's Ricardo Zonta (1m 11.688s) and Jarno Trulli (1m 11.711s) completed the sub-1m 12s runners.
Christian Klien lapped his Jaguar in 1m 12.248s, ahead of Nick Heidfelds Jordan which the German pushed to 1m 12.299s. Then came Zsolt Baumgartner on 1m 12.990s for Minardi, ahead of Timo Glock (1m 13.818s) and Gianmaria Bruni, who spun in Turn One but later lapped in 1m 14.411s.
If it stays dry - and so far the skies look benign - qualifying is going to be electric.