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Ferrari lead first practice at Sepang 19 Mar 2004

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004. 
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004

Schumacher ominously quick in opening session...

Two Ferraris, the two fastest times, a 1,5 second gap to the opposition - one could be forgiven for virtually repeating the introduction from Melbourne's first Friday practice session here in Malaysia, because once again the Ferraris ran riot.

This time Michael Schumacher crushed everyone with his best time of 1m 34.437s, which was nine-tenths better than team-mate Rubens Barrichello. In turn, the Brazilian's 1m 35.380s was six-tenths better than the next best, BAR’s Anthony Davidson on 1m 35.970s. But whether Barrichello was on the harder Bridgestone compound or was just suffering from his return to Europe for Valencia testing, nobody at Ferrari was saying.

On Melbourne form, almost certainly Schumacher was on the softer Bridgestone, which proved unraceable in Australia, and if Barrichello was on the harder tyre then rivals have some hope. This afternoon's session will be most interesting.

Behind Davidson, Ricardo Zonta reminded observers of his talent with fourth best time of 1m 36.147s for Toyota, but many teams let their lead drivers spare their engines. BAR's Jenson Button and Takuma Sato, for example, had only done installation laps prior to the last 10 minutes.

It was a relatively quiet session, though Turn Eight claimed both Williams drivers, Zsolt Baumgartner and Felipe Massa as they had gravely moments before continuing. Sato spun in Turn 14, and Giorgio Pantano gave the marshals some work pushing him out of the gravel in Turn 9.

Ralf Schumacher ended up fifth for Williams on 1m 36.229s, with Kimi Raikkonen';s improved McLaren sixth on 1m 36.314s. The least laps went to team mate David Coulthard, 11th on 1m 37.438s, while Raikkonen, and Sauber’s Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa each did only five. By contrast Schumacher did 11, Barrichello eight and Davison 21, the highest.

Juan Pablo Montoya was eighth for Williams on 1m 36.606s from Button (1m 37.018s) and Renault’s Fernando Alonso (1m 37.119s). Toyota’s Olivier Panis was 12th behind Coulthard (1m 37.590s), ahead of Jarno Trulli in the second Renault (1m 37.816s), Fisichella (1m 37.995s), Sato (1m 38.023s), Jaguar’s Bjorn Wirdheim (1m 38.086s) and Christian Klien (1m 38.554s), Toyota’s Cristiano da Matta (1m 38.734s), Jordan third man Timo Glock (1m 38.788s) and team regular Nick Heidfeld (1m 38.831s).

After this batch the gaps opened up quickly. Giorgio Pantano was 21st for Jordan on 1m 39.860s, Minardi’s Gianmaria Bruni 22nd on 1m 41.149s, team mate Zsolt Baumgartner 23rd on 1m 42.556s, Massa 24th on 1m 42.718s and Minardi third driver Bas Leinders, who duly got his necessary superlicence, 25th and last on 1m 43.424s from his 15 laps.

It's far too soon to say what it all means, but for sure Ferrari has made a pretty demoralising start to its Malaysian campaign. You only needed to look at faces further down the pit lane to see that.