Schumi and Alonso set to duel in the French heat

AP , MAGNY COURS, FRANCE

Sun, Jul 16, 2006 - Page 22

Formula One champion Fernando Alonso and seven-time champion Michael Schumacher duel again at this weekend's French Grand Prix.

Temperatures rose above 35OC on Friday -- and more than 53OC on the track -- and it's expected to get even hotter for today's race.

Schumacher placed sixth in practice on Friday.

"The situation looks pretty good," the German said afterward. "We [the team] are reasonably satisfied with what we have seen this afternoon."

Alonso also appeared relaxed, calling the day "a normal Friday."

Schumacher ended Alonso's four-race winning streak with a one-two Ferrari finish at the US Grand Prix on July 2. It was his third win in 10 races this year and the 87th of his career.

Alonso's fifth place at Indianapolis was his lowest finish of the season and the first time he has been off the podium since finishing 11th at the Hungarian GP in July last year.

Still, the Spaniard has a comfortable 88-69 lead over Schumacher in the drivers standings.

Six of the other seven races this year have been won by Alonso, with fellow Renault driver Giancarlo Fisichella winning the seventh.

Alonso was second in afternoon practice to Sauber's Robert Kubica, who also led the first session. Fifth-placed Fisichella came in ahead of Schumacher on sixth.

McLaren-Mercedes has a new driver for the race with Pedro de la Rosa of Spain replacing Juan Pablo Montoya for today's race. McLaren cut the Colombian from the team after he announced he would be heading to NASCAR next season.

However Ron Dennis, head of the McLaren team, said there was a possibility of Montoya returning this season.

"Juan Pablo is still contracted through to the end of the year," Dennis said. "And if we so choose, he will test and race again."

"He still is contracted to us unless there is some other commercial arrangement between ourselves and the NASCAR team or Juan himself," added Dennis.

De la Rosa ended up 22nd in the afternoon practice. Montoya was usually among the top 10.

Friday's practice had the test drivers doing the bulk of the work. The F1 commission announced on Thursday that test drivers will not participate in Friday practice starting next season.

There was another practice yesterday morning, followed that afternoon by qualifiers.

Sunday's 70-lap race represents a milestone of sorts. The first race officially called a Grand Prix was in France 100 years ago at Le Mans in June 1906, although the official Formula One circuit started in 1950.