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Schumacher streets ahead on Thursday 20 May 2004

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 in the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte Carlo, 20 May 2004 Mark Webber (AUS) Jaguar.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte Carlo, 20 May 2004 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Jordan Ford EJ14.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte Carlo, 20 May 2004 Jarno Trulli (ITA) Renault R24.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte Carlo, 20 May 2004 Ricardo Zonta (BRA) Toyota Test Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 6, Monaco Grand Prix, Practice, Monte Carlo, 20 May 2004

Ferrari upstage BAR as champion sets the pace

As the second practice hour here in Monaco drew into its final quarter hour today BAR were sitting pretty, with Anthony Davidson and Jenson Button first and second. But then out came Michael Schumacher, and suddenly the parameters were redefined.

Davidson’s best was 1m 15.141s - below Ralf Schumacher’s 2003 pole time of 1m 15.259s - but Schumacher’s riposte was a stunning 1m 14.741s. And, almost unnoticed in that excitement, Rubens Barrichello banged in a 1m 15.319s which ousted Button’s 1m 15.520s. Just to rub it in, Jarno Trulli and Kimi Raikkonen lapped in 1m 15.472s and 1m 15.479s respectively to push Button down to sixth.

This was, however, only the first day, and it’s difficult to be certain what levels of fuel each driver was running. There was also plenty of discourse on the subject of tyres. According to Bridgestone everything was fine; the Michelin runners suggested that their tyres were fantastic over a distance, and that even the hard Bridgestones were not as fast over the same number of laps. Time will tell, but qualifying is always crucial here when it comes to being in a good enough position to run at the front on race day.

This afternoon’s session began with another bang for Jaguar. After Webber’s engine fire this morning, the team were dealt another blow when Bjorn Wirdheim whacked the wall hard at Tabac and deranged his R5’s right rear suspension. With Webber not running as his engine was still being changed, and Christian Klien parking his car in the wall on the entry to Massenet later in the session, it was a bleak day for the Milton Keynes-based team.

Takuma Sato also had quite an adventurous time, like Davidson visiting one escape road and missing the odd apex here and there on his way to a seventh fastest time of 1m 15.664s, again impressively close to Button’s pace. Ricardo Zonta made best use of another Toyota V10 update for 1m 15.690s and eighth place, ahead of Fernando Alonso (1m 15.701s) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1m 16.097s. The Colombian had several brake-locking moments on his way to the final top 10 slot, beating David Coulthard (1m 16.229s), team mate Ralf Schumacher (1m 16.556s - he will lose ten places on the grid due to an engine change) and Cristiano da Matta (1m 16.743s). The final runner in the 1m 16s was Giancarlo Fisichella, who was surprised when his Sauber was quick on its first lap on new tyres but then lost grip and balance because the rear Bridgestone tyres began graining. That was virtually the opposite of the team’s experience in previous 2004 races.

Olivier Panis was 15th (1m 17.007s) from an impressive Giorgio Pantano (1m 17.309s) and Felipe Massa (who admitted to locking up his front wheels under braking for Ste Devote on his way to 1m 17.422s). Jordan drivers Timo Glock and Nick Heidfeld were evenly matched in 18th and 19th places (1m 17.756s and 1m 17.873s respectively), and Klien managed 1m 17.988s before his shunt. Bruni again led Minardi team mates Baumgartner and Leinders, the former pair almost inseparable in the 1m 18.8s and Leinders on 1n 20.370s. This time Wirdheim was the man without a time.

It now remains to be seen on Saturday just how effective tyre choices have been.