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Ferrari set the early pace at Imola 23 Apr 2004

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari in a jovial mood as he arrives at the circuit.
Formula One World Championship, Rd4, San Marino Grand Prix, Practice Day, Imola, Italy, 23 April 2004

Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello didn't even try to make it look difficult as they took their customary first and second places in this morning's first free practice session in Imola.

Ricardo Zonta was the first man to record a time, 1m 27.349s for Toyota, but after Bjorn Wirdheim had put Jaguar ahead with 1m 27.071s, Barrichello hacked down to 1m 24.547s and then 1m 22.680s. When Schumacher came out to play his first flying lap was 1m 21.522s, and after Barrichello had subsequently worked back to the front with 1m 21.443s, the world champion moved the goalposts again with 1m 20.084s. Nobody else got remotely close.

In the end, Ralf Schumacher clung on to Williams’ honour with third place and 1mn 22.250s, just heading off the BAR challenge of Anthony Davidson (1m 22.348s) and Jenson Button (1m 22.448s) as they slipped ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya (1m 22.796s).

It was a confusing morning in some ways, with the track temperature fluctuating wildly from as low as 19 degrees Celsius to 23 and back again, which may have favoured the Ferraris on their Bridgestone rubber.

Renault got seventh and ninth (Jarno Trulli 1m 22.927s and Fernando Alonso 1m 23.083s) but they were separated by McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen (1m 23.054s). Zonta rounded out the top 10 on 1m 23.161s, which was enough to keep David Coulthard at bay. The Scot lapped his McLaren in 1m 23.197s.

Mark Webber was comfortably the fastest Jaguar with 1m 23.417s, then came the Saubers with Giancarlo Fisichella just heading Felipe Massa, 1m 23.528s to 1m 23.562s. Olivier Panis was the final runner in the 1m 23s on 1m 23.790s for Toyota.

Takuma Sato did only a handful of laps for 1m 24.061s, then came Wirdheim (1m 24.152s), Cristiano da Matta (1m 24.752s) and Nick Heidfeld (1m 24.955s). The latter's Jordan team mate, Giorgio Pantano, continued his recent improvement to get close with 1m 25.375s, but Jaguar’s Christian Klien only managed 1m 25.679s and interrupted his morning with a spin at Acque Minerale. Timo Glock fought a Jordan that hated kerbs and ultimately lost it in the Variante Alta at the top of the circuit after achieving a best lap of 1m 26.254s.

The Three Minardis were at the back, with Gianmaria Bruni leading the way on 1m 27.933s, from Zsolt Baumgartner's 1m 29.312s and Bas Leinders, who put up his best performance yet in Formula One testing, on 1m 29.414s.

While proceedings so far may have a familiar feel to them, things may well be different this afternoon, as the temperature continues to rise at Imola.