Silver arrows pierce Ferrari armour
Pedro de la Rosa and Kimi Raikkonen pushed McLaren firmly to the fore in Melbourne this afternoon, as they set the two fastest times in the dying minutes of practice to dislodge Michael Schumacher.
Raikkonen had been the first man out this time, followed by Jordans Narain Karthikeyan, but when the Finn ran wide in one corner it was de la Rosa who set the pace initially with 1m 30.467s. A lot more drivers made serious efforts this afternoon as they assessed their tyre options, and David Coulthard, Fernando Alonso, Giancarlo Fisichella, Juan Pablo Montoya, Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher all had their turns atop the timesheets before de la Rosas final effort stopped the clocks in 1m 25.376s. Raikkonen recorded 1m 25.676s, and another late run, 1m 25.940s by Nick Heidfeld in the Williams, pushed Schumachers 1m 26.081s best from first to fourth.
Montoyas 1m 26.227s left him fifth, ahead of Felipe Massa (happy with 1m 26.357s for Sauber), Alonso (1m 26.562s), Jenson Button (1m 26.611s for BAR Honda), Rubens Barrichello (1m 26.639s after a moment running wide) and Fisichella (1m 26.667s) rounding out the top 10.
Ricardo Zonta made a late run to 11th on 1m 26.808s in the Friday Toyota, nipping Coulthard who finished on 1m 27.017s for Red Bull. Ralf Schumacher was luckily able to reverse out of the gravel after spinning off in Turn 9, and the Germans 1m 27.162s best beat team mate Jarno Trullis 1m 27.195s by a fraction. Mark Webber focused on long runs in his Williams and set the 15th fastest time with 1m 27.329s, which pipped Jacques Villeneuve who was still setting up his Sauber on his way to 1m 27.513s.
Christian Klien lapped his Red Bull in 1m 27.544s to hold off Takuma Satos 1m 27.891s, but having starred in the morning Kliens team mate Tonio Liuzzi blotted his copybook with a spin in Turn Three after only seven laps. He had at that stage lapped in 1m 28.926s compared to his morning time of 1m 25.967s (which, had he repeated it, would have been good enough for fourth), but as his car was stuck in the gravel the F3000 champion had no alternative but to abandon the car.
His time was subsequently bettered by Narain Karthikeyan who, it transpired, was hit with a US$6750 fine for exceeding the pit lane speed limit this morning with 86.2 kph as he exited on his first-ever lap. The Indian lapped in 1m 28.168s to better team mate Robert Doornboss 1m 28.620s, the Dutchman having a spin late in the session. Behind Liuzzi, Tiago Monteiro brought up the field with 1m 29.671s.
Prior to the session Minardi boss Paul Stoddart stood waving to crowd from the balcony by podium, but despite ongoing negotiations his cars did not appear during the session. There was talk that he might seek legal redress but the stewards made it clear that, no matter how many signatures Stoddart sourced agreeing to let him run in 2004 specification, they would not allow this. However, they said there is nothing to stop Minardi running tomorrow provided that they can get the cars into 2005 specification overnight.
So, the first two practice sessions are over and the first signs of 2005 form are emerging, but still several people had something in reserve this afternoon, so the true indication of the pecking order will only become apparent in the first qualifying session tomorrow afternoon.