Swiss team edge McLaren and Toyota rivals
In a practice session that posed as many questions as it answered, Felipe Massa emerged fastest for home team Sauber Petronas this afternoon in Sepang.
As track temperatures reached 55 degrees Celsius and the ambient hovered around 38, the Brazilian set the quickest time of 1m 35.608s, even though he calculated that he lost four-tenths of a second while running for two corners behind David Coulthards Red Bull, and then locked his brakes as he went into the next corner after overtaking the Scot.
Juan Pablo Montoya got the closest to him in his McLaren, lapping in 1m 35.620s to fend off Ricardo Zonta in the Toyota on 1m 35.677s. Zonta could not match his morning time, which remained the fastest overall lap of the day.
Kimi Raikkonen staged a great recovery after losing more than half the session after spinning early into the gravel in Turn 8. After his car had been craned away and returned to the pits, where the McLaren crew cleaned it up, he went into his final lap a mere 17 seconds before the chequered flag. As a result of a lap in 1m 35.719s he jumped from the tail end of the timesheet to fourth place.
Toyota's Ralf Schumacher was another late improver, to fifth on 1m 35.838s, and Melbourne winner Giancarlo Fisichella did only a few laps for a sixth best 1m 35.841s for Renault. Like Raikkonen, Rubens Barrichello recovered to seventh place on 1m 35.949s after losing 34 minutes spinning into the Turn 11 gravel and similarly having his Ferrari brought back to the pits. Jenson Button (1m 35.992s), Fernando Alonso (1m 36.103s) and Coulthard (1m 36.575s) completed the top 10.
Jarno Trulli was 11th in his Toyota on 1m 36.841s and Christian Klien was 12th for Red Bull on 1m 36.968s, despite a spin and later stopping in Turn 15.
Pedro de la Rosa was 13th on 1m 37.033s ahead of Takuma Sato who lapped his BAR in 1m 37.044s before getting away with a very gravelly slide in Turn 8. Nick Heidfeld was Williams sole runner, 15th on 1m 37.067s, as gearshift problems restricted Mark Webber to only two installation laps.
By now you will be wondering just where Michael Schumacher was. The answer is 16th, running on old tyres throughout the session to clock a best of 1m 37.270s. The champion, like Sato, had one moment when he slid off track, but focused more on setting his Ferrari up for the race than outright lap times.
Robert Doornbos won the Jordan race with 1m 37.878s which left him 17th, Narain Karthikeyan was 19th on 1m 38.855s and Tiago Monteiro survived a spin on his way to 1m 39.755s for 21st. Sandwiched between Doornbos and Karthikeyan was Jacques Villeneuve, who ran his Sauber to 1m 38.121s.
Tonio Liuzzi was 20th on 1m 39.349s after once again spinning his Red Bull into a gravel trap halfway through the session and having to abandon it, and the final timed runners were Minardi racers Patrick Friesacher (1m 40.940s) and Christijan Albers (1m 41.156s).
The result was an intriguing blend of times, but it is important to remember that teams split the test duties between their drivers on a Friday, so some ran lighter fuel loads than others, and team mates werent always running the same specification tyres. It would be unwise therefore to draw too many hard and fast conclusions on likely form tomorrow.