Stage set for a thrilling qualifying session in Bahrain
Brazilian beats rival Montoya by just a thousandth of a second.
When Michael Schumacher took control of Fridays second practice here in Bahrain by almost a second, with less than 15 minutes gone, it looked as though it would be business as usual. But a gripping session evolved, suggesting that tomorrows qualifying and Sundays race are far from foregone conclusions.
True, Ferrari were still fastest courtesy of Rubens Barrichellos 1m 31.450s. But literally the second after the Brazilian recorded that time, Juan Pablo Montoya took his Williams round in 1m 31.451s, so only one thousandth of a second separate two of the leading protagonists and Bridgestone and Michelin. However, with three rear tyre failures for Fernando Alonso, Anthony Davidson and David Coulthard, Michelin have some concerns to address overnight.
The session also began badly for McLaren when Kimi Raikkonen became the first victim of engine failure as he began his first flying lap. Nick Heidfeld also failed to do more than five laps before his Jordan stopped with as-yet unidentified technical problems.
Davidsons puncture came after he had covered 26 laps, but once a new left rear was fitted he burst back out to snatch third fastest time in the dying moments with 1m 31.488s, greatly boosting BARs hopes.
So where was Michael? After a spin he ended up fourth on 1m 31.732s but was quite happy with his Ferrari and thought he could have gone faster without traffic problems.
Besides Davidson, the other great surprise was Christian Kliens speed in the second Jaguar, which he hauled into contention with fifth fastest time of 1m 31.789s late in the session. For once that eclipsed team mate Mark Webber, who was eighth on 1m 32.041s. The Austrian was very happy.
The Jaguar team mates were separated by Williams Ralf Schumacher and BARs Jenson Button, who lapped in 1m 31.842s and 1m 31.879s respectively. Both of them were quite happy with what they achieved.
Alonso was ninth for Renault after his tyre drama, the right rear Michelin on his R24 throwing its tread. He lapped in 1m 32.234s, but team mate Jarno Trulli stopped out on the track in Turn 11, with possible engine failure. He was only 18th.
Ricardo Zonta was again in strong form for Toyota with 10th fastest time of 1m 32.335s which edged out Coulthard, who had managed 1m 32.495s before his left rear tyre failure sent him spinning dramatically into the gravel in the downhill run to Turn 13. The Scot was chased by Takuma Sato, who lapped in 1m 32.680s but lost time when running over a discarded Renault barge board damaged his BARs front wing.
After the Heidfeld disappointment Jordan had something to be pleased about as Giorgio Pantano took 13th best time on 1m 32.708s to edge out Cristiano da Mattas Toyota on 1m 32.761s.
Felipe Massa should have been ahead of them but spun his Sauber in Turn 13 after posting his best sector one and two times. Like many, the Brazilian discovered that while the racing line had plenty of grip, getting even slightly off it was like driving on ice. Toyotas Olivier Panis was right behind Massa, the pair on 1m 33.031s and 1m 33.049s respectively, while an unwell Giancarlo Fisichella ( he was running a fever) was 17th on 1m 33.061s in the other Sauber.
Behind Trulli, Timo Glock stopped the clocks in 1m 33.695s for Jordan, heading the Minardi of Zsolt Baumgartner, Jaguars Bjorn Wirdheim and Minardis Gianmaria Bruni on 1m 34.054s, 1m 34.317s and 1m 34.791s respectively. That left Bas Leinders to take the third Minardi to 1m 36.248s, which was 1.5s faster than he went this morning.
All of the teams now have the data they need to make their tyre choices, which of course could change the closeness of the times tomorrow since some may not be able to run as soft a compound as they were today. Nevertheless, the signs are that Ferrari and Bridgestone will have stronger opposition here in Bahrain than they got in Australia and Malaysia.