The last battle between seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher and titleholder Fernando Alonso was officially scheduled to begin yesterday with qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix.
Schumacher, who will retire from Formula One after Sunday's race, will be fighting for his last pole position, hoping to keep alive his chances for an eighth title.
Playing it safe
Alonso, who became Formula One's youngest champion by clinching the title at last year's Brazilian GP, can afford to play it safe. The Spaniard needs to finish eighth or better in the season finale to secure the championship. He can also win it regardless of his finish if Schumacher fails to win the race.
"We need to finish the race and avoid any risks," the Renault driver said.
Alonso and Schumacher were separated by a little more than a tenth of a second in Friday's practice.
Schumacher was sixth fastest overall the 4.31km Interlagos circuit in 1:13.713, with Alonso finishing 10th in 1:13.820. Both were more than a second slower than McLaren test driver Alexander Wurz's time of 1:12.547.
"The first impressions are good: The car and the Bridgestones [tires] seem to be working well," Schumacher said.
Alonso clinched the title last year in Brazil when it was the third-to-last race of the season. He needed only a third-place finish to beat Kimi Raikkonen at the time.
Alonso is racing with a slower but more durable engine than teammate Giancarlo Fisichella this weekend.
"There is a small difference," he said. "It's the last evolution for Fisichella and I have the normal one we raced the last couple of races. For sure in the race [Fisichella is] allowed to use more revs compared to me, but I was not planning to use any of them with the old one or the new one anyway."
Alonso, driving his last race before moving to McLaren, is seeking his second straight Formula One title and another constructor's crown for Renault. Schumacher hopes for an eighth title for himself and/or 15th for Ferrari, which trails Renault by 11 points in the constructors' race. A maximum of 18 points are still at stake.
"Our aim is clearly to try and win the constructors' championship and that will require a one-two finish," Schumacher said.
Schumacher's teammate Felipe Massa, racing in front of his home crowd, was 17th fastest on Friday with 1:14.561.
Tests drivers dominated Friday's practice. Toyota's Jarno Trulli had the best time for race-day drivers with 1:13.483, fourth fastest overall.
Neither Schumacher nor Alonso, who has a 126-116 lead in the season's standings, posted a time in the day's first practice session, which had McLaren's Raikkonen, runner-up in Brazil the past two years, finishing first in 1:13.764.
Another practice session was set for yesterday morning, with qualifying for the 71-lap feature set for the afternoon.