Updated car helps put Finn on top of timesheets
Kimi Raikkonen boosted McLarens hopes for the French Grand Prix this morning by setting fastest time in a practice session in which half a second covered the first 10 cars.
To everyones relief it was dry throughout, and under the rules all of the teams have been allowed to do their final tyre choice work in this session as yesterdays were both spoiled by rain.
In the first Michael Schumacher eventually stamped his authority with a lap of 1m 14.944s, and he soon beat that in the second as he cut down to 1m 14.742s. However, McLarens stock rose when David Coulthard slipped in a 1m 14.977s in the MP4-19B, and then Kimi Raikkonen went quickest with 1m 14.513s. Nobody beat that, but Jenson Button came close with 1m 14.568s to edge out Michael Schumachers 1m 14.571s with two minutes left. Takuma Sato did 1m 14.711s for fourth, and despite an off in Turn 13 towards the end, Rubens Barrichellos earlier 1m 14.817s was enough for fifth.
Olivier Panis upheld the hopes of his countrymen with sixth place in his Toyota, in 1m 14.883s, which just beat team mate Cristiano da Mattas 1m 14.885s. Both times pushed once-fastest David Coulthard down to eighth with 1m 14.977s, ahead of the Renault drivers Jarno Trulli and Fernando Alonso who both seemed set for much quicker times than 1m 15.033s and 1m 15.096s before minor offs.
Marc Gene was the quicker Williams driver in a disappointing session. The Spaniard lapped in 1m 15.179s without ever really getting going, while Montoya had ongoing mechanical problems and, once he got back on the track, promptly left it again in Turn 13. He was last, never improving on 1m 21.458s.
Mark Webber climbed to 12th for Jaguar with 1m 15.350s, edging out team mate Christian Klien on 1n 15.449s, and they headed the unhappy Sauber drivers. It was not a great morning for the Swiss team. Having briefly topped the times in the second session, Giancarlo Fisichella banged his C23 so hard over the chicane kerbs in Turn 17, the final corner, that first one and then the other lower front wishbones collapsed, causing the blue car to toboggan to an inelegant halt. Team mate Felipe Massa was marginally faster, on 1m 16.062s.
Zsolt Baumgartner wasnt that far behind, with 1m 16.681s, but fellow Minardi driver Gianmaria Bruni spun his car in Turn 3 after recording 1m 19.401s. Between them were the Jordans of Giorgio Pantano (1m 17.104s) and Nick Heidfeld (1m 17.162s).
How accurate a reflection this mornings form is of potential qualifying pace remains to be seen.