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Schumacher tops practice, despite shunt 08 Oct 2005

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari F2005.
Formula One World Championship, Rd18, Japanese Grand Prix, Practice, Suzuka, Japan, 7 October 2005

It rained, Michael Schumacher crashed and Narain Karthikeyan had a spell as the fastest man on track - three memorable things that happened in practice at Suzuka this morning.

It began raining just before the first session started at nine o’clock, and steadily got worse. Schumacher’s accident came as he sped through Turn 4, part of the notorious Esses. The Ferrari lost grip, spun one and a half times across the gravel bed, and hit the tyre wall hard enough to remove its left front wheel. His time of 1m 46s nevertheless remained fastest as the conditions worsened, though later Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya did well in their McLarens to lap in 1m 48s and 1m 49s respectively to finish the first session second and third.

When the second session started it was Robert Doornbos who spun his Minardi well after the exit to the chicane. Antonio Pizzonia also ventured out, but neither did a full lap.

Eventually everyone bar Schumacher Snr and the two McLaren drivers went out; the German’s car required lengthy repairs, the other two figured they’d learned what they needed to for qualifying in the first session.

As the times got faster and faster towards the end as whole raft of drivers had their turn at the top, but Karthikeyan appeared to have the honours sewn up with 1m 50.150s as the flag came out, but then Giancarlo Fisichella ruined a good story by banging in his final lap in 1m 50.136s. It was a great performance by the Jordan-driving Indian, nonetheless.

The other strong underdog was Christijan Albers, who was at one stage quickest for Minardi and ended the session fifth on 1m 50.994s. That, and Karthikeyan’s performance, was a big fillip for Bridgestone, though the honours were evenly split with Michelin.

Ralf Schumacher was third for Toyota on 1m 50.369s ahead of Jenson Button on 1m 50.920s for BAR Honda, as this Japanese engine manufacturer’s battle intensified.

Right at the end Tiago Monteiro’s lap of 1m 51.223s pushed one-time fastest man Mark Webber down a place in his Williams, which the Australian had lapped in 1m 15.274s. Jarno Trulli was next up on 1m 51.503s, with David Coulthard and Robert Doornbos rounding out the top 10 on 1m 51.710s and 1m 51.971s respectively.

Fernando Alonso was only 11th with 1m 52.667s but ran earlier than the faster runners, Christian Klien was 12th with 1m 52.897s, and Jacques Villeneuve 13th with 1m 53.460s. Rubens Barrichello went out early for his 1m 54.739s, Felipe Massa wasn’t very happy with 1m 53.842s and nor was Takuma Sato with 1m 54.307s. Right at the back Pizzonia managed only 2m 01.075s.

It was altogether an entertaining session, and it bodes well for a mixed grid after what is sure to also be a wet qualifying this afternoon.