Raikkonen quickest despite Michelin concerns
While Ralf Schumacher was obliged to watch practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this morning, there has been serious concern behind the scenes about the tyre-related crash that put his Toyota into the Turn 13 wall yesterday afternoon.
With Michelin still unsure of the exact cause, there has even been talk of the French company flying in different tyres, which would cause all sorts of legal and political problems as teams and drivers must use a manufacturers products that have been homologated in advance for each event, and must subsequently nominate their choice of two compounds prior to qualifying and then race on it.
If Michelins runners were to switch from their homologated rubber to different tyres, which could not arrive until tomorrow morning at the earliest, they would be reported to the stewards as a matter of course. The stewards would then have to decide whether this constituted force majeure on grounds of safety, and act accordingly. At the same time, Ferrari and Bridgestones other runners might reasonably object.
It is against this tense backdrop that practice continued, and qualifying will take place this afternoon.
There was limited running in the first session as the teams concerned adjusted their cars in accordance with precautionary set-up instructions issued by Michelin's engineers. McLarens Juan Pablo Montoya and Red Bulls David Coulthard were their only runners to complete a full timed lap - others chose to use the pit lane to avoid the potential risks of the banked final turn.
Running levels were pretty much back to normal for the second 45 minutes and nobody suffered any tyre problems, as Kimi Raikkonen set the weekends fastest lap thus far, with 1m 10.643s for McLaren. That compares with Rubens Barrichellos 2004 pole position time of 1m 10.223s.
Jenson Button was very close to the McLaren driver, giving BAR a big boost with 1m 10.844s, while Fernando Alonso was third for Renault with 1m 10.920s.
Continuing their progress, Michael Schumacher, Ferrari and Bridgestone were fourth on 1m 11.203, followed by Takuma Sato (1m 11.324s), Giancarlo Fisichella (1m 11.375s), Jarno Trulli (1m 11.457s), Juan Pablo Montoya (1m 11.574s after setting fastest time of 1m 10.726s in the first session), Ricardo Zonta (1m 11.760s), Rubens Barrichello ( 1m 11.794s), Christian Klien (1m 11.806s), Jacques Villeneuve (1m 11.875s) and Felipe Massa (1m 11.915s). Overall the times are very tight, with only 2.858s covering the entire field.
Mark Webber and Nick Heidfeld did some more race set-up work for respective laps of 1m 12.080s and 1m 12.186s for Williams, and after an off in Turn 7 David Coulthard was restricted to 1m 12.914s for 16th.
Christijan Albers again performed superbly for Minardi to lap in 1m 13.024s, and that was just enough to pip Tiago Monteiro who took his Jordan round in 1m 13.051s. The latters team mate Narain Karthikeyan was next with 1m 13.161s, and Patrick Friesacher brought up the rear for Minardi with 1m 13.501s.
There were few dramas. Apart from Coulthard going off road momentarily, Villeneuves half spin into the Sauber pit, Barrichello ran wide in Turn 2, Monteiro in Turn 8, and Klien in Turns 2 and 8. The Austrian also had a minor run-in with Alonso right at the end, each feeling the other had got in their way.
The whole tyre issue is very complex, and wear and stress on the rubber depends on all sorts of factors, including the particular suspension set-ups and pressures that individual teams choose, so it will be interesting to see what - if anything - transpires in qualifying this afternoon.