Button and BAR shine in final practice 23 Apr 2005
Jenson Button ended this mornings free practice just where he wanted to be, at the top of the timesheets. The Englishman shaded everyone with a lap of 1m 20.058s for BAR and reckons there is more to come. In the end it was championship leader Fernando Alonso who got closest to him, despite sitting out the first session and half of the second to preserve engine and tyres. The Spaniard lapped his Renault in 1m 20.114s, pushing Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren down to third place with their 1m 20.209s.
There were two damage-free incidents in the first session, when Narain Karthikeyan went off at Turn 8 and Jordan team mate Tiago Monteiro did likewise in Turn 12. Michael Schumacher was fastest with 1m 21.356s, followed by Rubens Barrichello on 1m 22.885s and Felipe Massa on 1m 22.971s. Then came Raikkonen (1m 23.723s), Mark Webber (1m 23.788s), Tonio Liuzzi (1m 23.894s), Giancarlo Fisichella (who came out right at the end for one run, which yielded 1m 24.120s), Ralf Schumacher (1m 24.156s), Alexander Wurz (1m 24.262s) and Nick Heidfeld (1m 24.341s). David Coulthard was 11th with 1m 24.523s and Button 12th on 1m 24.757s.
The serious stuff came in the second session, as the fuel came out and the times began plunging. Buttons time came in the last third of the session, and resisted all efforts to dislodge him. Behind Alonso and Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher was happier as his Ferrari was good enough for fourth place with a best lap of 1m 20.318s, while Fisichella did 1m 20.351s to edge out the impressive Alexander Wurzs 1m 20.358s which was set at the same time as team mate Raikkonens time and was just over a tenth slower.
Both of the Williams drivers improved right at the fall of the chequered flag, and no sooner had Heidfeld bagged seventh place with 1m 20.431s than Webber pushed him down a place with 1m 20.424s.
Takuma Sato was ninth on 1m 20.450s and Felipe Massa completed the top 10 with 1m 20.506s for Sauber (though he, of course, must lose 10 grid places after having a fresh engine fitted overnight). Ralf Schumacher was 11th for Toyota on 1m 20.802s and Rubens Barrichello, who at one point had another trip through the gravel at Villeneuve, was the last runner below 1m 21s with 1m 20.851s.
Jarno Trulli did less running than one might have expected on his way to 1m 21.105s, ahead of David Coulthard in the leading Red Bull with 1m 21.136s. Jacques Villeneuve was 15th on 1m 21.543s. Vitantonio Liuzzi ran well for much of the session, but a problem on his RB01 kept him in the pits at the end when the quick times were set so he had to settle for 1m 22.188s which left him 16th.
After their earlier adventures Karthikeyan and Monteiro were their usual 17th and 18th, the Indian on 1m 22.964s, the Portuguese on 1m 24.910s. Immediately after setting that time he beached himself in the gravel in Turn 10. Neither Minardi ran as a team which had been up working on the new PS05s until three in the morning had yet further work to do on them as practice continued.
So, it appears that BARs improvement is real, and that Ferrari are getting back up there, so the stage is set for a gripping qualifying session this afternoon.