Anglo-French team delight the Quebecois
The pace is really hotting up here on Montreals Ile Notre Dame, after Renault's Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso set the pace ahead of the BARs of Jenson Button and Takuma Sato in the final practice sessions this morning.
In the first session, which began at eight oclock to facilitate global television coverage as qualifying was also brought forward, Alonso took advantage of perfect track conditions to become the first man to dip below 1m 14s with a lap of 1m 13.946s. This remained fastest all the way through until, in the dying minutes, Michael Schumacher shaded it with 1m 13.865s, but as the champion predicted yesterday, this is going to be a close-fought weekend.
A great deal will depend on brake performance, stability and endurance. Last year Schumacher was able to nurse a brake-troubled Ferrari home first ahead of brother Ralf, but yesterday the latter had nothing but brake problems and this morning he was still only ninth in the first session.
Jenson Button got rid of the rear-end nervousness his BAR exhibited both at Nurburgring in qualifying and here yesterday, to set the third fastest time in that first session (1m 14.047s) ahead of Rubens Barrichello (1m 14.384s) and Jarno Trulli (1m 14.412s).
The second session had barely begun when Schumacher exerted his authority again, this time with a lap of 1m 13.581s, then immediately trimmed that to 1m 13.420s, a second quicker than next man, Alonso. But 20 minutes into the session the Spaniard broke another barrier with a stunning lap of 1m 12.901s, which was immediately bettered by team mate Jarno Trulli with 1m 12.833s. Later the Italian did 1m 12.629s, but spun shortly afterwards. It didnt matter as Alonsos counter-attack fell short.
Button cut down to 1m 13.026s in traffic (he had to pass Barrichello) but pitted after a subsequent attempt was similarly thwarted, so he has more to come. Sato had undisclosed mechanical problems all through the first session and did not get running until the final 20 minutes of the second. In only three laps, however, he banged in a lap of 1m 14.190s to go fifth fastest, ahead of team mate Button. He trimmed that to 1m 13.881s within another lap, and later improved it to 1m 13.225s.
Juan Pablo Montoya gave Williams a boost with fifth fastest time of 1m 13.320s, edging out Michael Schumachers 1m 13.420s, then came the close-matched McLarens. Kimi Raikkonen recorded 1m 13.566s and David Coulthard, who spent a long time in the garage waiting for his car to be readied, 1m 13.686s.
Rubens Barrichello improved, but only to 1m 13.909s for ninth, and Christian Klien grabbed 10th with 1m 14.340s, three places ahead of team leader Mark Webbers 1m 14.835s. Between them were Toyota driver Cristiano da Matta on 1m 14.521s and Williams Ralf Schumacher on 1m 14.697s.
Giancarlo Fisichella posted 1m 14.902s midway through the session, which ended up only 14th best, ahead of Olivier Panis (1m 14.916s), Felipe Massa (1m 15.322s) and Nick Heidfeld (1m 15.987s). Timo Glock officially substituted for Giorgio Pantano as the latters management problems continued, the young German F3 star now being set to make his Grand Prix debut and setting 18th best time of 1m 16.417s. That kept him just ahead of the Minardis, with Zsolt Baumgartner on 1m 16.579s and Gianmaria Bruni on 1m 16.825s.
During the first session Glock, Button, Barrichello, Giancarlo Fisichella, Zsolt Baumgartner, Christian Klien, and Juan Pablo Montoya all missed the apex of Turn 15 (the final corner) at one stage or another, while Barrichello also got Turn 1 wrong, Alonso got Turn 9 wrong and Montoya spun in Turn 7.
In the second, Raikkonen spoiled Turn 4, Coulthard went off in Turn 1, Glock kissed the wall exiting the final corner, Montoya (twice), Baumgartner, Sato and Massa missed the apex of Turn 15, Barrichello went over the grass in Turn 9, Sato got the hairpin wrong, and Trulli missed the apex in Turn 6.
Now everyone has to go away and figure out their brake and refuelling strategies, prior to pre-qualifying. Its going to be close this afternoon.