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Button leads final German practice 24 Jul 2004

Jenson Button (GBR) BAR Honda 006.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Practice Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 23 July 2004 Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Practice Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 23 July 2004 David Coulthard (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/19B.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Practice Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 23 July 2004 Giorgio Pantano (ITA) Jordan.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 24 July 2004 Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004 and Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2004 line up to leave the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd12, German Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Hockenheim, Germany, 24 July 2004

He might be facing a 10 grid place penalty this afternoon, but in the final practice sessions this morning Jenson Button stamped BAR’s authority with a lap of 1m 13.676s.

This is comfortably below the 2002 pole position record of 1m 14.389s belonging to Michael Schumacher, and the 2003 pole time of 1m 14.917s set by Juan Pablo Montoya. In fact, Button’s promising performance pushed the Colombian back a place, after the Williams driver had redefined the pace with a lap of 1m 13.976s and become the first man to break the 1m 14s barrier at Hockenheim.

This all happened in the second of the two sessions, which was remarkable only for Michael Schumacher spinning his Ferrari in Turn 13. In the first, however, there was a fair amount of excitement for Jordan. First Nick Heidfeld went fastest with a lap of 1m 18.707s as things began to warm up, then Giorgio Pantano went second with 1m 18.914s. But as the Italian guided his car into Turn 1 on the following lap the front wing broke off as the car went over the inner kerb (a repeat of Timo Glock’s problem yesterday) and Pantano went understeering across the track to bump relatively gently into the tyre wall on the outside of the corner. The session was red flagged while the track was cleaned of nasty razor-sharp fragments of carbon fibre.

There was another red flag a little later when Zsolt Baumgartner’s Minardi lost a barge board which had to be swept up, and later still Takuma Sato went off at Turn 13. Neither Sato nor Pantano was able to participate in the second session as their cars were repaired.

After last night’s rain the track temperature, at 30 degrees Celsius, was 20 degrees less than it was yesterday, but on paper the Michelin runners appeared to maintain an advantage. Behind Button and Montoya, David Coulthard gave himself and McLaren a boost with third fastest time of 1m 14.064s to beat team mate Kimi Raikkonen’s 1m 14.100s. Fernando Alonso was fifth for Renault on 1m 14.320s, then came the first Bridgestone cars, the Ferraris, with Rubens Barrichello on 1m 14.393s and Schumacher on 1m 14.459s. Jarno Trulli was next on 1m 14.468s, followed by Antonio Pizzonia on 1m 14.766s, Cristiano da Matta on 1m 14.791s and Olivier Panis on 1m 14.953s, the two new Toyotas again going well.

Mark Webber did more laps than most while making up for the track time he lost to brake-duct problems yesterday, and lapped his Jaguar 12th fastest in 1m 15.000s, and team-mate Christian Klien was 0.481s slower in 13th. Then came the Saubers of Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa on 1m 15.572s and 1m 15.588s, and Nick Heidfeld who somehow squeezed 1m 16.832s out of his Jordan. Gianmaria Bruni was the faster Minardi today, on 1m 18.227s, with Baumgartner the final driver to record a time on 1m 18.691s.

Quite how accurate a barometer this morning’s session was for qualifying remains to be seen, given the sudden change in track conditions compared to yesterday. It’s safe to say that Ferrari still have something up their sleeve, but it remains to be seen just how much.