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Final practice - the pace hots up in Malaysia 19 Mar 2005

Jarno Trulli (ITA) Toyota TF105.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2005 Christian Klien (AUT) Red Bull Racing.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Sepang, Malaysia, 19 March 2005 Fernando Alonso (ESP) Renault R25.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2005 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) McLaren with a fan.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2005 Nick Heidfeld (GER) Williams BMW FW27.
Formula One World Championship, Rd2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Practice Day, Sepang, Malaysia, 18 March 2005

Jarno Trulli and Christian Klien set the fastest times in Sepang this morning, as cooler conditions led to an explosive reduction in lap times in the final practice session ahead of first qualifying.

The Italian was the first man to lap beneath 1m 33s, taking his Toyota round in 1m 32.832s. Klien later almost matched that with 1m 32.870s for Red Bull, and Renault’s Fernando Alonso was right behind them with 1m 32.880s to edge out the second Toyota of Ralf Schumacher on 1m 32.951s.

As you can see, this was an unusual session and it is safe to say that several people kept their powder dry ready for qualifying this afternoon.

David Coulthard’s low-fuel run resulted in 1m 33.092s for fifth place, while Giancarlo Fisichella recovered after spinning and removing the front wing of his Renault (and red flagging the second session midway through), by lapping in 1m 33.194s.

Conditions in the earlier of this morning’s sessions were cooler than yesterday afternoon, and Alonso ‘did a Schumacher’ by setting the pace immediately he took to the track halfway through. His 1m 34.715s best deposed the champion (who was that session’s only spinner, early on in Turn Four), but right at the end Michael lapped the Ferrari in 1m 34.888s to retake a second place lost to Fisichella, who managed 1m 34.930s. Kimi Raikkonen, the Toyotas of Trulli and Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jenson Button and the Williams of Nick Heidfeld and Mark Webber rounded out the top 10. There was bad news for Button, however, as he drove into the pits at the end of the session with his Honda engine trailing oil smoke.

The big news of the morning also concerned BAR, who substituted Anthony Davidson for Takuma Sato after the latter developed a fever overnight after an insect bite and was placed on an intravenous drip. The Briton knows the track, of course, after his BAR testing role in 2004, but jumping straight into Sato’s cockpit for the toughest race of the season was the sternest test he could face.

BAR got him out early to give him as much track time as possible, and within 11 laps he matched the Japanese driver’s best of 1m 37.044s from Friday afternoon with 1m 37.049s, which left him 14th.

When the second session got going the times soon tumbled. Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher set the initial pace, before Trulli, Klien, Alonso, Ralf Schumacher, Coulthard and Fisichella moved ahead. Raikkonen ended up seventh, relatively content, on 1m 33.349s, but McLaren team mate Montoya spoiled his low fuel run by running wide under braking in one corner and was only 11th on 1m 33.689s. Separating the two team mates were Williams partners Heidfeld and Webber, and Davidson. Heidfeld went off on his first quick run, but right at the end pipped Webber for eighth place with 1m 33.468s to the Australian’s 1m 33.517s. Davidson’s final best was 1m 33.580s, an excellent performance in the circumstances.

Behind Montoya, Rubens Barrichello was the quicker Ferrari with 1m 33.943s, separated from Michael Schumacher by yesterday’s fast man, Felipe Massa. The Brazilian took his Sauber to 1m 34.002s, a tenth of a second quicker than Schumacher. Behind them, Jacques Villeneuve lapped his Sauber in 1m 35.532s before an off-course moment, and Tiago Monteiro was the faster Jordan driver. His best lap was 1m 37.824s, while Narain Karthikeyan recorded 1m 38.126s. Christijan Albers took the Minardi honours with 1m 38.673s, but Patrick Friesacher was right behind him on 1m 38.974s.

The only man not to run in the second session was Button, who now faces a 10 grid place penalty after his ‘fresh after Melbourne’ Honda V10 had to be replaced.

So now all the preparations have been made, and the long and short runs, with high and low fuel loads, are all over. We shall shortly get a much clearer picture of true performance levels in qualifying, and several people who starred this morning are likely to find themselves a little lower down the order.