Honda the Friday pacesetters 31 Mar 2006
The times remained close in Albert Park this afternoon, with the top seven drivers (and six teams) within a second of one another. Once again it was Hondas Anthony Davidson who headed them, on 1m 26.822s, after he edged out Williamss Alex Wurz in the closing stages. The Austrian lapped in 1m 26.832s. Both times were comfortably below Giancarlo Fisichellas 2005 pole time of 1m 28.289s, despite the windy, and sometimes slippery, conditions.
Robert Kubicas BMW Sauber had a new engine after the failure this morning, and the pole remained in striking distance with 1m 27.200s. Jenson Button was also right in there in his Honda, on 1m 27.213s. The Englishman had a couple of interesting moments, one of which came when he appeared to get out of Davidsons way. Fernando Alonso also looked happy with his performance, after posting 1m 27.443s. With Michael Schumacher taking his Ferrari to 1m 27.658s and Kimi Raikkonen his McLaren to 1m 27.773s, the prospects for a close fight in qualifying seem genuine.
Behind this septet, Rubens Barrichello was happier than of late on his way to 1m 28.075s for Honda, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya on 1m 28.200s. Felipe Massa was there too, with 1m 28.227s, just ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella, who experienced fuel feed problems on his Renault as he clocked a 1m 28.280s. Jacques Villeneuve continued his morning speed for BMW, with 1m 28.440s, but he will need an engine change for qualifying tomorrow so will get a 10 place grid penalty.
David Coulthard had an adventurous afternoon, spinning early in Turn 3 and later going off momentarily in Turn 1. But he was also quick, taking his Red Bull round in 1m 28.531s.
The Williams race drivers didnt go out until the last 10 minutes, during which Mark Webber lapped in 1m 28.860s for 14th place. Team mate Nico Rosberg turned a best lap of 1m 29.933s, for 22nd. Dont regard either time as representative of what they might do tomorrow. Nick Heidfeld was behind Webber, with 1m 29.053s on a lap that was spoiled by traffic and yellow flags.
Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher were 16th and 18th for Toyota on 1m 29.138s and 1m 29.379s respectively. They sandwiched Scott Speed who lapped his Toro Rosso in 1m 29.196s. Team mates Tonio Liuzzi and Neel Jani were very unhappy, however. Liuzzi was matching Speed on old rubber when his STR1 snapped away from him and brushed a wall, leaving him on 1m 30.734s, and Jani was unhappy with his cars nervous behaviour too as he lapped it in 1m 30.686s.
Tiago Monteiro headed the Midlands this time with 1m 29.713s, but team mate Christijan Albers was back in 25th place on 1m 30.830s after spinning into the wall in Turn 19. Markus Winkelhock was right behind the Dutchman, with 1m 31.260s in the third M16.
Robert Doornbos and Christian Klien were 20th and 21st for Red Bull, with 1m 29.876s and 1m 29.879s respectively, which put them ahead of Rosberg.
At the back, Takuma Sato posted 1m 32.556s for Super Aguri, while Yuji Ide had two off-road moments and a 360 degree spin en route to 1m 34.224s.
The conditions were still cool this afternoon, and for sure several runners were keeping their powder dry, but there are good auguries that this could be the closest race of the season so far.