Michael Schumacher dominates free practice


Ahead of this morning's sole free practice session, the air temperature is 29 degrees C, while the track temperature is 36 degrees. It is overcast.

First out is Christijan Albers, who, for the third successive Grand Prix, has had to have his engine replaced. The Dutch driver is not a happy bunny, and understandably so.

Albers is followed by Takuma Sato, as the session gets underway. As both drivers head back to the pits, having completed the obligatory installation lap, Tiago Monteiro goes out to test the waters, so to speak.

Having completed his installation lap, the Portuguese driver returns to the pits… there is silence, as the 'combatants' play the 'waiting game'.

After almost ten minutes of inactivity, Tonio Liuzzi heads down the pitlane. The Italian posts the first time of the day, 1:34.759, which is the signal for Sato to leave the pits.

As the Super Aguri driver goes quickest (33.052), Trulli, Rosberg and Ralf leave the pits. Meanwhile, Liuzzi has a bit of a moment, going wide.

As Pedro de la Rosa leaves the pits, Ralf goes quickest (31.468), however, Kimi Raikkonen is already on a very hot lap. Sure enough, the Finn crosses the line at 31.163, to take the top spot.

Ralf goes quickest again, crossing the line at 30.746, as Heidfeld, Fisichella, Klien, Michael and Barrichello leave the pits.

de la Rosa goes third, but his McLaren teammate is already painting the timing screens purple, posting a 30.179 to re-take the top spot.

As Klien goes fourth, ahead of Albers, Michael goes quickest in the first sector. He's quickest again in the second, going on to cross the line at 29.078, taking over a second off Raikkonen's best.

Fisichella and Monteiro both go wide, as Alonso can only manage 31.538, which puts him tenth.

Another lap, another improvement for Michael, who posts 28.318, the gap to Raikkonen now up to 1.8s. Heidfeld is third, ahead of Klien, Ralf and Fisichella.

All eyes on Massa, as Button goes eighth (30.908). The Brazilian posts 28.097 to go second, thus bumping down Klien, who had just improved with a 28.988. Meanwhile, Michael goes wide, proving that it can happen to anyone here.

Massa improves with a 28.481, closing to within 0.163 of his teammate. Third placed Klien is 1.5s down on the Brazilian.

At half time, it's: Michael, Massa, Klien, Speed, Raikkonen, Heidfeld, Fisichella, Alonso, Button and Ralf. Coulthard and Webber are the only drivers that haven't posted times, though the Scot is currently on track.

Indeed he is on track, the Red Bull driver posts 29.517 to go third, albeit 1.19s off Michael's pace.

Liuzzi locks up big time at Turn 1, the Italian currently fifteenth. Meanwhile, Webber is having problems getting off the bottom of the timesheet, the WilliamsF1s not looking good here.

Kimi Raikkonen is back on track, despite failing to go quickest in any of the sectors, he goes second overall, crossing the line at 28.368, just 0.050s down on Michael.

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso goes quickest in the first sector, though he loses a little ground in the second. The Spaniard crosses the line at 1:27.924, taking the top spot for his title rival. Klien goes off, skimming across the massive run off, thankfully he stops short of the barriers. The guys are really struggling for grip, the cool temperatures not helping.

A 27.591 sees Michael Schumacher reclaim the top spot, the German emphasising his pace by beginning his next lap with a super-fast first sector. Elsewhere, Webber has improved to seventeenth, behind Monteiro and Sato, as Rosberg languishes in twenty-first.

Michael, Alonso, Raikkonen, Massa, Klien, Fisichella, Button, Coulthard, Liuzzi and Speed… that's the order with thirteen minutes remaining.

Button posts 28.925 to go sixth, other than Sato (16) and Liuzzi (15), he has completed the most laps thus far (13).

Nico Rosberg improves with a 29.176, which sees him to go tenth, but this only pushes his teammate further down the timesheet to twentieth. The Toyota duo is also at the wrong end of the timesheet, but looking more competitive than the WilliamsF1s.

With just over five minutes remaining, Giancarlo Fisichella goes quickest in the final sector, posting a 27.963, which puts him third overall.

Heidfeld improves to fourth, courtesy of a 28.151, as teammate Kubica languishes in eighteenth position. Meanwhile, Klien goes quickest of all in the first sector, the Austrian determined to impress. As Michael and Button both begin hot laps, Kubica produces a 27.964 to go fourth, around the world thousands of Villeneuve fans sigh.

Michael posts 27.203 raising the benchmark ever higher, the gap to Alonso now 0.7s. That said, the German has another mini-excursion over the run-offs.

The session ends with Michael quickest, ahead of Alonso, Fisichella, Kubica, Heidfeld, Button, Massa, Barrichello, Raikkonen and Klien.

Early days, but the seven-time world Champion clearly has the pace here, and has also put the nightmare of 2005 behind him. Thing is, do Renault and Fernando have a response?

Time will tell.

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Published: 26/08/2006
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