Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Raikkonen seizes advantage from Schumacher

AP , SEPANG, MALAYSIA

Finnish Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes races past the grandstand during the free training at the International Circuit in Sepang, Malaysia, yesterday. Raikkonen secured the fastest time. The second race of the season will start tomorrow.

PHOTO: EPA

Kimi Raikkonen roared past Michael Schumacher in the second practice session yesterday for the Malaysian Grand Prix, signaling that teams equipped with Michelin tires could challenge the six-time world champion and Ferrari under the tropical sun.

But Germany's Schumacher maintained his white-hot pace in the first session, clocking the fastest time and demonstrating the dominance that Ferrari's new F2004 showed in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix.

Hot, humid temperatures sizzled the afternoon track, helping Raikkonen of Finland lead in a McLaren-Mercedes, followed by Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher's brother, in a Williams-BMW and Australian Mark Webber for Jaguar. Michael Schumacher pulled up fourth.

The result could point up the superiority of the Michelins used by McLaren, Williams and Jaguar in hot weather over Ferrari's Bridgestones, believed to be one of the few factors favoring Schumacher's rivals.

In the morning, Schumacher sped down the 5.543km Sepang International Circuit in 1 minute, 34.437 seconds, almost three seconds faster than Spaniard Fernando Alonso's pole position last year of 1:37.044.

But in the afternoon, Raikkonen led Ralf Schumacher, the 2002 winner, by 1:34.395 to 1:34.693, with Webber pulling up third at 1:35.054 and the elder Schumacher trailing at 1:35.094.

Yesterday's practices were merely that, with real qualifying for starting position scheduled today when two timed laps replacing a one-lap system used both Friday and Saturday last year. The change this year allows the teams to make more adjustments.

Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello of Brazil was second-fastest in the morning session at 1:35.380. Britain's Anthony Davidson, the third driver for BAR-Honda, was third at 1:35.970 and Brazilian Ricardo Zonta of Toyota fourth at 1:36.147.

Teams lower than fourth place in last season's standings are allowed a third driver in practice, but they will not participate in the race.

Ralf Schumacher was fifth with 1:36.229, followed by Raikkonen at 1:36.314. Their success in jumping to the top two places in the afternoon signals Michael Schumacher could have a fight on his hands tomorrow.

Michael Schumacher won the season's first race in Australia easily and, if Ferrari gets the weather right, remains the clear favorite to win Malaysia for the first time in three years.

After winning in 2000 and 2001, the German came in third in 2002 after an early bump with Colombia's Juan-Pablo Montoya and sixth in 2003 after a nick from Jarno Trulli of Italy.

Montoya, Ralf Schumacher's uneasy teammate at Williams-BMW, and Trulli in a Renault ended up fifth and sixth in the afternoon with 1:35.100 and 1:35.115 respectively.

Both times that Ferrari has lost in Malaysia, the Italian team has raced cars unchanged from the previous season's models. This year, Ferrari will be running a brand-new version -- the same car that utterly dominated in Australia.

The race tomorrow coincides with general elections in this Southeast Asian country, which could hinder organizers from reaching the 120,000 targeted spectators.

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