Honda-powered team looking good for qualifying
One day Jenson Button is going to win a Grand Prix. It may happen tomorrow afternoon, if his form this morning is anything to go by. The BAR driver set the pace in both of todays practice sessions, clocking the fastest lap so far this weekend in the second.
Michael Schumacher set the initial pace in that second session, chased by Kimi Raikkonen, whose McLaren seems well suited once again to this circuit. The world champion recorded 1m 29.331s, the Finn 1m 29.354s. But with 10 minutes left Buttons effort yielded 1m 28.827s, the only time the 1m 29s barrier was breached. Just to rub it in, Takuma Sato in the sister car posted third fastest time of 1m 29.127s as the flag fell.
Raikkonen thus dropped back to fourth ahead of the second Ferrari of Rubens Barrichello (1m 29.545s), Renaults Fernando Alonso (1m 29.555s) and McLarens David Coulthard (1m 29.955s).
The next batch, in the 1m 31s, was again very tightly packed. Ralf Schumacher lapped his Williams in 1m 30.176s, then came the two Toyotas with Olivier Panis just pipping team mate Cristiano da Matta (1m 30.277s to 1m 30.316s). Giancarlo Fisichella was next on 1m 30.519s, but any cheer at Sauber was tempered by the fact that he will get a 10 grid place penalty this afternoon after his engine failure on Friday morning.
Mark Webber was 12th on 1m 30.867s but is another with his enthusiasm under control after the stewards gave him an overnight penalty of one second on his qualifying time after he was judged to have set his best sector time when passing the yellow flag zone around Felipe Massas stricken Sauber yesterday afternoon.
Jarno Trulli lapped in 1m 30.986s for Renault, chased by Christian Klien who indeed did keep it clean for Jaguar on his way to 1m 31.061s and 14th place. Massa was next on 1m 31.504s from Jordans Nick Heidfeld (1m 31.956s), then came the Minardis of Zsolt Baumgartner and Gianmaria Bruni (1m 32.753s and 1m 32.894s respectively). Giorgio Pantano spun his Jordan in Turn 1 on his way to 1m 33.383s, while mechanical problems prevented Juan Pablo Montoya (who spun in Turn 10) from setting a time.
Both Schumacher brothers had offs in the first session, Ralf in Turn 1, Michael in Turn 3, while Baumgartner went off in Turn 2. No damage was sustained by any of them.
The scene is thus set for another great qualifying session, but this is almost certain to be one of the last in the current format. Following a meeting of team bosses at the Nurburgring on Friday, plans are afoot for the introduction of a new format at Julys British Grand Prix.
The exact details remain subject to confirmation and FIA approval, but are expected to include two 20 minute sessions, separated by 20 minutes. Drivers would be allowed six laps in each, with the lowest possible fuel loads so speeds would be real, but the best times from their sessions would be aggregated to form their grid time. After that the cars would go straight to parc ferme. They would have to start the race in the trim in which they finished qualifying, but the teams would be allowed to add their secret amounts of race fuel.
This would mean that in qualifying all of the cars would be out on the track at the same time, just like the old days, placing a premium on finding a clear lap, and the man who was genuinely the fastest would most likely be on pole position.