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It's tight at the top in session one

NEWS STORY
21/05/2005

With ten minutes to go before the start of the first of today's free practice sessions, the teams and drivers will have made their tyre choice for the remainder of the weekend. With very little chance of rain however, it is almost certain that we will see a Michelin driver atop the podium on Sunday afternoon. The question is however, will it be a McLaren, a Renault or even a Toyota driver?

One man who is unlikely to be celebrating tomorrow, barring a heavy downpour, or some other form of miracle, is Ferrari's Michael Schumacher. That said, we have learned never to write off the wily old fox.

The air temperature is 20 degrees C and the track temperature is 23 degrees, as we wait for the lights to go green and get the session underway.

The lights go green, but as is often the case on Saturday mornings, the drivers remain resolutely in their bays. After two minutes however, Patrick Friesacher noses his Minardi out onto the track, the day's activity is underway.

Teammate Albers is right behind him, the Italian team keen to enjoy its moment in the 'spotlight'.

Pretty soon the Minardi duo is joined by the Jordans of Monteiro and Karthikeyan, and the McLarens of Raikkonen and Montoya. Tonio Liuzzi is another early riser - the Italian still unsure whether he, or Christian Klien, will partner David Coulthard in Germany next week.

Liuzzi continues around the tight twisty track, hopefully to post the first time of the day. Sure enough, he crosses the line at 1:24.705 to set the 'benchmark'.

Albers is back on track as Liuzzi completes another lap, this time posting 1:23.137. The reliability of the Cosworth allowing the Red Bull drivers to drive their cars, unlike so many of their rivals who appear to spend much of the weekend nervously 'nursing' their powerplants.

As Albers posts a 1:29.114, Liuzzi takes another slice out of his own time, crossing the line at 1:21.486.

The Dutch driver is joined by his Austrian teammate, and pretty soon they are both running in the high 1:25s.

With fifteen minutes of the session done - that's one-third - only seven drivers have been out, and of those only three have posted times. Still, if you can afford to visit Monaco, 'value for money' isn't high on your list of priorities.

Sixteen minutes into the session and Ralf Schumacher leaves the Toyota bay, as Raikkonen, Monteiro and Karthikeyan return to the track. Michael Schumacher is also on track.

Ralf goes second (22.795) only to be leapfrogged by Raikkonen, who crosses the line at 1:21.787. Elsewhere, Heidfeld, Trulli and Barrichello leave the pits.

Michael Schumacher goes fourth (24.173) ahead of Montoya (24.712), as Raikkonen leaps to the top of the timesheets with a 1:19.620. Webber and Villeneuve are both on track.

Ralf improves to second (19.669) as Michael goes third and Montoya fourth.

Raikkonen raises the benchmark even higher, the Finn lapping the Principality in 1:18.958. Moments later however, he's edged out by teammate Montoya (18.415), and Ralf, who goes second.

Heidfeld goes fifth, ahead of Liuzzi, Webber and Trulli, only for Coulthard (20.722) to split the Australian and the Italian moments later.

Raikkonen reclaims the top spot, his McLaren crossing the line at 1:17.755, as Barrichello goes seventh (20.359).

It's wild out there, as Montoya goes quickest (17.527) and Heidfeld improves to third ahead of Webber, Ralf and Coulthard. The only drivers yet to post a time are the two Renaults and Massa, but all three are on track now.

Heidfeld consolidates third spot with a 1:18.048, as teammate Webber goes quickest in the first sector.

Barrichello improves to sixth (18.371), which puts him ahead of Ralf, Michael, Villeneuve and Fisichella.

Coulthard is on a stunningly hot lap, he goes quickest in the first two sectors, finally crossing the line at 1:17.130 to go quickest by 0.347. Pole position would be a massive PR coup for the Star Wars movie.

Elsewhere, however, Alonso is on an equally hot lap, the Spaniard crossing the line at 1:16.951. For the youngster this isn't about PR, it's about winning the World Championship.

Phew, the mad rush appears to be at an end, for now… only Karthikeyan and Liuzzi are on track.

With thirteen minutes remaining, it's Alonso ahead of Coulthard, with Montoya third, ahead of Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Webber, Barrichello, Ralf, Fisichella and Michael. Massa has yet to post a time.

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