Third drivers dominate, but engine failure at Jordan
Red Bull's Vitantonio Liuzzi celebrated his first Grand Prix appearance by taking fastest time in his RB01 when the first practice session was held in Albert Park this morning.
Jacques Villeneuve was the first man to leave the pit lane, as 22 cars participated in the first practice session of the new season. Pedro de la Rosa for McLaren, Liuzzi for Red Bull, Ricardo Zonta for Toyota and Robert Doornbos for Jordan all joined the regular race drivers, but ultimately neither of the Minardis ran. Christian Horner agreed this morning to respect the signature that Tony Purnell gave Stoddart when Red Bull Racing was still Jaguar last September, but the Australian still lacked Ferraris agreement. The situation may yet be resolved in time for tomorrow.
Liuzzi was the first man to record a time, 1m 33.405s, and that was soon eclipsed by de la Rosa, his McLaren running with unusual high-mounted auxiliary wings either side of the engine cover to generate maximum downforce. These two swapped fastest times for much of the session, with the Italian getting the upper hand with a lap in 1m 25.967s to the Spaniards 1m 26.984s, and it was not until the last 10 minutes that most of the others came out to play as they conserved their engines.
First Coulthard, then Webber and Button went quickly in pursuit of Liuzzi and de la Rosa, followed by Trulli and Heidfeld.
When the flag fell after the hour Liuzzi was still quickest on 1m 25.967s, with de la Rosa improving to 1m 26.480s and Zonta to 1m 27.265s. Behind them, Juan Pablo Montoya took fourth with 1m 27.425s from Coulthard on 1m 27.573s and Felipe Massa, who took his Sauber round in 1m 27.971s.
Mark Webber pleased his home fans with 1m 28.269s for seventh ahead of Jarno Trullis Toyota (1m 28.366s), Jenson Buttons BAR (1m 28.632s) and Christian Kliens Red Bull (1m 28.834s). Nick Heidfeld lapped in 1m 29.172s for 11th in his Williams, Rubens Barrichello was 12th for Ferrari 1m 29.227s and Ralf Schumacher was 13th in the second Toyota on 1m 30.285s. That left him ahead of Jacques Villeneuve with 1m 30.332s for Sauber and Robert Doornbos on 1m 30.370s in the best placed Jordan Toyota. Takuma Sato did 1m 31.364s for BAR, with Tiago Monteiro (1m 32.348s) and Narain Karthikeyan (1m 38.175s) the final runners for Jordan. Misfortune befell the Indian within six laps, however, when he suffered the first engine failure of the year as his Jordan was followed by a plume of oil smoke.
For reference, Michael Schumachers pole time for the 2004 race was 1m 24.408s. The champion, together with Kimi Raikkonen and the Renault drivers restricted himself to a couple of installation laps only.
The session was only the first tantalising glimpse of 2005 form, but it was a start. The season is finally underway.