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Raikkonen leads Ferrari challenge 19 Mar 2004

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004 Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams BMW FW26.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004 Mark Webber (AUS) Jaguar.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004 Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 leads team mate Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004

McLaren, Williams and Jaguar all edge Ferrari...

If practice in Sepang this morning was predictable, things hotted up this afternoon - figuratively and literally.

Michael Schumacher was only fourth fastest (1m 35.094s), while McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen (1m 34.395s), Williams’ Ralf Schumacher (1m 34.693s) and Jaguar driver Mark Webber (1m 35.054s) all went ahead of the Ferrari.

It's still far too soon to try and figure out who was really doing what, because the fuel load of each individual car is of course a critical factor in its ultimate speed and everyone was keeping such information close to their chest. But perhaps the comment of Sauber’s Felipe Massa's summarised the situation best, when the Brazilian said: "Michelin is very strong, for sure, but I think we (Bridgestone) are competitive."

The session began in 54 degree Celsius track temperature, and though it ended at 49 the track got better and better all through the session. Anthony Davidson set the ball rolling with 1m 36.708s, but later stopped his BAR in the pit road with a mechanical problem and ended up only 17th. Webber had a spell at the top of the times, but no sooner had he been displaced by Michael Schumacher than Renault’s Fernando Alonso went quicker than the Ferrari. In the end, however, Raikkonen and Ralf Schumacher posted the fastest times. Both said they were a lot happier with their cars than they had been this morning. Webber continued to smile, having been consistently quick in both sessions.

Behind Schumacher's Ferrari, Juan Pablo Montoya got his Williams more to his liking for 1m 35.100s, to edge out Jarno Trulli (1m 35.115s) and Massa (1m 35.288s), the Brazilian improving right at the end of the session. Alonso (1m 35.300s), David Coulthard (who spun once in Turn 11 before posting 1m 35.301s) and Rubens Barrichello (who concentrated on race set-up on his way to 1m 35.373s and also had a spin, in Turn 15) rounded out the top 10.

Jenson Button went up and down the timesheets and ended 11th on 1m 35.407s for BAR, heading the two Toyotas of Olivier Panis (1m 35.524s) and Ricardo Zonta (1m 35.850s. Cristiano da Matta did not complete the session, after spinning off in Turn 14.

Christian Klien survived one lurid moment over a kerb in his Jaguar, and was 14th on 1m 35.996s, while Takuma Sato had a torrid time. Under pressure from a close-following Webber, the Japanese driver spun his BAR in Turn Four, tapping the barrier with the nose of the car and removing its front wing. He could not improve on 1m 36.292s to pip Giancarlo Fisichella, who was unhappy with his Sauber's balance on his way to 1m 36.353s.

Behind Davidson, Bjorn Wirdheim was 18th in his Jaguar (1m 36.883s) ahead of da Matta (1m 36.907s). Nick Heidfeld was again the fastest Jordan, in 1m 37.725s, while Gianmaria 'Jimmy' Bruni did a fine job for 21st place in his Minardi on 1m 37.818s.

Minardi’s Zsolt Baumgartner was 22nd in 1m 38.588s, ahead of Timo Glock who did a good job for Jordan with 1m 38.796s. That left Giorgio Pantano 24th in his similar EJ14, on 1m 39.324s, and Bas Leinders last in the third Minardi, on 1m 41.485s.

We'll have a much better idea tomorrow of what tyres everyone was running on this afternoon, and what fuel loads they were running, but the general feeling is that both Ferraris ran on the harder Bridgestone this afternoon. On today's evidence, it could be pretty close in qualifying.