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Ferrari beat the rain in opening practice 02 Jul 2004

A Ferrari F2004 front wing section.
French Grand Prix, Rd 10, Preparations, Magny Cours, France, 1 July 2004

Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher were unchallenged in today’s first practice session at Magny-Cours, ending the session four seconds faster than Williams’ stand-in Marc Gene.

The margin of superiority, however, wasn’t as great as it appeared. The morning suddenly became overcast as the start of the session approached, and the threat of rain only disappeared just before the first cars went out in an ambient temperature of 21 degrees C and with a track temperature of 31.

Schumacher was the first man to record a time, and as an indication of what lies in store his 1m 15.713s was within tenths of absent brother Ralf’s 2003 pole time of 1m 15.019s and very little slower than Montoya’s 2003 fastest lap of 1m 15.512s. Barrichello improved that to 1m 15.487s, but before anyone else could get in on the act it began to rain heavily.

Anthony Davidson slid off track briefly in Turn 13 in the rain as he made his way back to the pits, the super-smooth Magny-Cours surface being very slippery when wet.

By this stage Gene was third on 1m 19.348s, followed by Timo Glock, Giorgio Pantano and Nick Heidfeld in their Jordans (1m 19.428s, 1m 19.455s and 1m 20.531s respectively). Gianmaria Bruni and Bas Leinders also lapped their Minardis (in 1m 21.203s and 1m 22.267s respectively).

Just after the rain stopped, but while the track was still very wet, Montoya showed just how bad conditions could be here with a major spin in Turn Six. The Williams got away from him under braking and spun several times over the gravel beds, and as it became airborne the Colombian was very lucky not to roll. The car hit the tyre wall head on, ripping off the left front and right rear wheels.

Other drivers had slightly less adventurous times: Jarno Trulli ran wide into Turn Five, Gene missed a chicane and Olivier Panis slid off in Turn 12.

Before a dry line reappeared, Davidson was fastest in the wet conditions with 1m 30.083s from Takuma Sato (1m 30.092s). Once the dry line was established Ricardo Zonta and Jenson Button went faster.

So, behind the fastest eight drivers who ran in the dry, the order was: Davidson (1m 26.552s), Cristiano da Matta (1m 26.757s), Panis (1m 27.449s), Button (1m 28.317s), Zonta (1m 29.085s), Christian Klien (1m 29.626s), Zsolt Baumgartner (1m 29.877s), Sato (1m 30.092s), Bjorn Wirdheim (1m 30.204s) and Trulli (1m 30.392s). Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella, David Coulthard, Montoya, Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber all did only sporadic in and out laps and were not credited with times.

All in all, a thoroughly inconclusive session.