BAR star edges the Ferraris ahead of qualifying
Jenson Button made the headlines again today, this time for setting fastest time in final practice for the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The BAR driver left it right until the last minute, banging in 1m 19.556s to snatch the honour from Rubens Barrichello on 1m 19.768s. The achievement endorsed Buttons belief yesterday that the Anglo-Japanese team will be very strong here this weekend, and was sufficiently strong to resist Michael Schumachers final attack, which left the world champion second on 1m 19.747s.
Conditions were significantly cooler for the first session this morning under the overcast sky, with a track temperature around 22 degrees Celsius and an air temperature three degrees lower. Schumacher was quickest then, with 1m 20.216s which comfortably eclipsed Kimi Raikkonens Friday best of 1m 20.884s. The star, however, was second fastest Antonio Pizzonia, who lapped in 1m 20.482s and was fastest until Schumacher beat him at the end.
In that session the action centred on momentary off-track excursions for Mark Webber (Turn 1), Olivier Panis and Takuma Sato (Turn 2), and Pizzonia (Turn 7), but the warmer second session was only minutes old when Felipe Massas weekend turned to disaster when his Sauber suffered an engine failure. To preserve tyres and engine life he is unlikely to bother to qualify this afternoon, since he would in any case in all likeliness start at the back with a 10 grid-place penalty levied.
Pizzonia remained in strong form, taking the fourth best time with 1m 19.913s. This was the first sub 1m 20s lap of the Hungaroring, and was quicker than team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, who was on a lap of similar pace when he messed up and ran wide on the exit to Turn 10 and chose to abort. The Colombian was nevertheless encouraged by the potential of his Williams even though he ended up only eighth on 1m 20.480s.
Jarno Trulli gave Renault cause for hope too with fifth fastest lap of 1m 20.130s. Takuma Sato lapped sixth in 1m 20.363s, which was exactly matched by 2003 victor Fernando Alonso. A late run to1m 20.606s was also great encouragement for the improving Toyota team, courtesy of Ricardo Zonta, whose lap pushed Kimi Raikkonen down to 10th for McLaren (1m 20.614s) and also edged team mate Olivier Panis back a slot on 1m 20.689s. David Coulthard was the final runner in the 1m 20s, with 1m 20.914s in the second MP4-19B.
Mark Webber narrowly beat Jaguar team mate Christian Klien, the green cars taking 13th and 15th places on 1m 21.112s and 1m 21.390s respectively. Giancarlo Fisichella was between them with 1m 21.165s, the Italian happier with a better set-up for his choice of Bridgestones after yesterdays day of understeer.
Nick Heidfeld lapped his Jordan in 1m 21.712s to stake his claim once again for consideration for a topline seat in 2005, Massas sole flying lap of 1m 21.989s left him 17th, and Giorgio Pantano was 18th in the second Jordan on 1m 23.083s.
At the back, Gianmaria Bruni won the inter-Minardi duel, with 1m 23.979s compared to Hungarian racer Zsolt Baumgartners 1m 24.522s.
With qualifying only hours away its too hard to call how it will go, but Ferrari, BAR, Williams, McLaren and Renault are all looking in strong form. It seems unlikely that it will rain now, as conditions have warmed up significantly since this morning, so the weather will most probably not throw a spanner in the works at the last moment.