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Barrichello tops shortened practice session 28 Aug 2004

Rubens Barrichello (BRA) Ferrari F2004.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 27 August 2004 Olivier Panis (FRA) Toyota in the garage.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 28 August 2004 The Ferraris in the pitlane under rain covers.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 28 August 2004 BAR Hondas in the pitlane under rain covers.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 28 August 2004 McLaren mechanics cover the cars in the pitlane from the rain.
Formula One World Championship, Rd14, Belgian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, 28 August 2004

Rain stops play in Belgium

Spa-Francorchamps’ unique micro climate vented its full force on Formula One racing this morning. Well, actually it did it all night, ever since yesterday afternoon’s session ended. With no let up, and poor conditions in nearby Liege, it was not possible for the emergency medical helicopter to take off so practice initially had to be delayed and then cancelled as officials awaited improvement.

This finally came in time for one, shortened 15-minute session to be run, starting at 10.45, but it was stopped after only six laps when Antiono Pizzonia and Gianmaria Bruni went off the road in separate incidents. Once the session was red flagged, it was announced that it would not restart. Drivers will thus get their final proper wet-weather runs in pre-qualifying this afternoon, prior to qualifying.

In the brief session it was initially Michael Schumacher who set the pace, with a lap of 1m 57. 906s for Ferrari and Bridgestone, but Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren Mercedes and Michelin were right behind on 1m 57.975s. Giancarlo Fisichella was in there too for Sauber and Bridgestone, with 1m 58.138s, and after David Coulthard on 1m 58.434s came Felipe Massa in 1m 58.864s.

Behind them, Jenson Button’s 1m 59.182s, initially third fastest, left him seventh ahead of Jarno Trulli (1m 59.519s), then came Takuma Sato (2m 00.088s), Fernando Alonso (2m 01.475s), Ricardo Zonta (2m 02.175s), Christian Klien (2m 02.411s), Mark Webber (2m 02.501s), Juan Pablo Montoya (2m 02.559s) and Olivier Panis (2m 02.592s). The Frenchman had a brief off at Rivage, and there was standing water between Pouhon and Fagnes. None of these drivers really hit their stride.

Nick Heidfeld was next on 2m 03.556s in his Jordan, followed by team mate Giorgio Pantano on 2m 04.131s, then came Bruni (2m 05.585s), Pizzonia (2m 07.337s) and Zsolt Baumgartner (2m 09.428s).

Then Pizzonia lost it at Rivage and took off the left front suspension against the tyre wall, and almost the same time Bruni lost it dramatically at the top of Eau Rouge, spinning into the wall and running backwards up Raidillon before coming to a halt. In the midst of all this Rubens Barrichello slipped in, almost unnoticed, a lap of 1m 57.085s to go fastest, but then out came the red flags and the game was over.

When it resumes at 1300 local time, drivers and teams will largely have to ‘guestimate’ their set-ups, and if conditions improve either as pre-qualifying, or even qualifying, progresses, we could have a lottery deciding the grid this afternoon.