Finn still quickest, but faces uphill race battle
He was fastest in final practice, but a precautionary engine change ahead of qualifying means Kimi Raikkonen will drop ten places on the grid for the Italian Grand Prix, dealing a potentially knock-out blow to his world championship chances.
The other big story of Saturday practice was Nick Heidfelds absence at Williams. On Friday the German complained of headaches after a crash here at last weeks tests. When the headache intensified Saturday morning he consulted with FIA medical delegate Gary Hartstein and a visiting Professor Sid Watkins, and was advised to stand down. While he is resting prior to next weekends Belgian Grand Prix at Spa, his position was taken this morning and for the rest of the weekend by super-sub Antonio Pizzonia, who last raced for the team here last year after a great performance at Spa. Thus was reformed Jaguars initial 2003 line-up, in which the Brazilian partnered Mark Webber.
The first session saw Raikkonen set the fastest time of 1m 22.415s ahead of Michael Schumacher (1m 22.550s) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1m 22.676s).
The moment the second session began Raikkonen blasted round in 1m 22.411s to beat his previous time, then lowered that to 1m 22.064s to set the baseline, while Schumacher Snr posted 1m 22. 395s. But these times were a long way off the fastest from Friday, and eventually Raikkonen and Montoya did what they were expected to do with times of 1m 20.916s and 1m 21.318s respectively. Takuma Sato was a surprise in third with 1m 21.399s for BAR, ahead of Fernando Alonso on 1m 21.548s, then came Jarno Trulli with 1m 21.884s for Toyota and Giancarlo Fisichella. The Italian recorded 1m 21.469s but that was disallowed after he missed the first chicane so he had to fall back on his previous best of 1m 21.951s.
There were a host of drivers in the 1m 22s, led by Webber for Williams on 1m 22.066s. David Coulthard and Christian Klien followed in their Red Bulls on 1m 22.291s and 1m 22.345s respectively, and Schumacher Snr rounded out the top 10 with his 1m 22.395s. He failed to better that after a lurid slide over the gravel at Ascari illustrated the levels to which the champion was having to go to get any time out of his Ferrari. Team mate Rubens Barrichello was next on 1m 22.497s with rather less drama, then came Jenson Button with 1m 22.558s in his BAR, Jacques Villeneuve on 1m 22.701s, Ralf Schumacher on 1m 22.710s and Pizzonia with 1m 22.823s. That was nine cars in a span of 0.757s.
Felipe Massa struggled all morning on his way to 1m 23.389s in his Sauber, and was hounded by the end by Tiago Monteiros Jordan EJ15B on 1m 23.472s. Robert Doornbos again pipped Christijan Albers at Minardi with 1m 23.676s, the latter having several adventures which included a spin at Ascari on his way to 1m 24.102s. Narain Karthikeyan completed the runners on 1m 24.772s, set before he spun his Jordan EJ15 at the second chicane and parked it in a tyre wall.
While interesting, this mornings times are a little confusing given the difference between some team mates, which suggests that they were on widely different set-ups and/or programmes. Things were lent greater momentum, however, as McLaren seem highly likely to have to change Raikkonens engine before qualifying, which on this mornings form means that several key players can expect a one-place gift this afternoon.