Barrichello, Speed crash out; technical woes for Raikkonen
Robert Kubica kept BMW Sauber at the top of the Magny-Cours timesheets on Friday afternoon, courtesy of a lap of 1m 16.902s which displaced Fernando Alonsos Renault. By the end of the hour, the champion was half a second adrift, with a best lap of 1m 17.498s.
Alonsos team mate Giancarlo Fisichella was initially second while the Spaniard was setting the pace, the pair of them utilising their new C-spec RS26 V8 engines in beating Michael Schumacher. The German had lapped in 1m 17.938s, only to be beaten by Fisichellas 1m 17.916s. That in turn succumbed to Alonsos lap, until Kubica put the matter beyond dispute, his F1.06 sporting radical new vertical wings on its nose.
Close to the end, Anthony Davidson pushed his Honda up to third place with 1m 17.750s, and he was joined by Alex Wurz for Williams on 1m 17.859s.
A surprise seventh, behind Schumacher, was fellow German Adrian Sutil, back on third driver duty for Midland. He hustled his M16 round in 1m 18.049s to head Red Bulls Robert Doornbos (1m 18.175s), Toyotas Ralf Schumacher (1m 18.274s) and Toro Rossos Neel Jani (1m 18.639s).
Jarno Trulli was just outside the top 10 with 1m 18.731s, then came Jenson Button on 1m 19.005s and Felipe Massa on 1m 19.013s. Former Sauber team mates Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen, and Midlands Christijan Albers ran them close, with 1m 19.108s, 1m 19.140s and 1m 19.183s respectively. Raikkonens McLaren, however, rolled to a halt in Turn 11 at the very end of the session with an electrical problem, cause as yet unknown.
Rubens Barrichello also failed to finish the session, ending it 17th on 1m 19.259s after spinning his Honda in the Turn 6 chicane and then sliding into the tyre wall.
Mark Webber, running the new Series 6 Cosworth engine in his Willians, was 18th on 1m 19.413s, two places ahead of team mate Nico Rosberg on 1m 19.692s. Rosberg is still running the Series 4 engine he used at Indianapolis and the team are monitoring its condition closely before deciding on a possible change ahead of Sunday's race.
The German lost out right at the end to Toro Rossos Tonio Liuzzi, as the Italian improved to 1m 19.589s. Behind them came Midlands Tiago Monteiro on 1m 19.701s ahead of McLaren recruit Pedro de la Rosa (1m 19.809s), Takuma Sato (1m 19.996s) and Scott Speed (1m 20.003s). Like Barrichello, the American had a twitch mid-corner in Turn 6, almost collected it, and then had his Toro Rosso rotate in the opposite direction before crashing backwards into the tyre wall.
Neither David Coulthard nor Christian Klien showed their hand at Red Bull. The Scot lapped in 1m 20.135s for 25th, the Austrian 1m 20.409s for 27th, sandwiching BMW Saubers Jacques Villeneuve on 1m 19.154s.
At the back, local hero Franck Montagny posted 1m 21.132s in his Super Aguri, just ahead of the man who will soon replace him, Sakon Yamamoto, on 1m 21.969s.
As ever, many of the opening days lap times were influenced strongly by fuel load, but already it is possible to discern that the main battle over the remainder of the weekend will most likely be between Renault and Ferrari, Michelin and Bridgestone.