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3/5 /04

Notes: Saturday Practice Ferrari’s rivals got a bit closer to the scarlet juggernaut during the two 45-minute practice sessions prior to the qualifying-sessions at Albert Park. Michael Schumacher is still on top, but his fellow F2004-steerer Rubens Barrichello was pipped to the line by a couple of BMW-Williams cars.

The FW26, however, still doesn’t look great over the bumps. ‘No, it’s ok [in that area],’ tester Marc Gene insisted.

Cristiano da Matta (12th) had another poor session in the Toyota as he was forced, again, to pull over on the circuit but it wasn’t another tire failure.

ANGRY CHAMPION

Before the young Brazilian halted, however, he annoyed a gesticulating six-times world champion at Turn Three by not giving him enough space to overtake. Technical chief Mike Gascoyne hinted at an electrical glitch and, after the TF104 was brought back to the pits, mechanics started work on the front-end.

Minardi racer Gianmaria Bruni returned to the pits with a huge plume of smoke pouring from his Cosworth V10, sparking concern about the ‘one engine’ rule.

Kimi Raikkonen’s McLaren (9th) had a big moment at the very-quick Turn-12.

Most F1 analysts in pitlane were talking about the increasing amount of understeer that had crept-into the Melbourne street-circuit since Friday. One mechanic said his F1 team was making half-millimeter adjustments to chassis ride-height in a bid to counter the problem.

Minardi chief Paul Stoddart, whose best car (Gimmi Bruni, 19) was more than 5-seconds off the pace, lamented that the gap has increased to the front-runners. But he is impressed with the pace of his Bridgestone tires. ‘Everyone thought Michelin would struggle but those red cars are still ahead,’ said the Aussie, who denied that Ferrari ran light on Friday. ‘No they’re not light. I think everyone’s just got to face up to the fact that their new car is just mega. And it’s also Schumacher’s pure driving ability.’

3/5 /04

Notes: Australian Grand Prix Jordan’s third-driver Giorgio Pantano had a baptism of fire in Australia. The young German had a suspected terminal gearbox problem on Friday but, even before that, he had earned the wrath of race and F1 team officials. ‘He made a classic mistake,’ said boss Eddie Jordan. ‘He went two kilometres over the speed-limit in pitlane and was fined seriously. I’ll say no more. You don’t like that.’

Not only did Timo fail visibly in the afternoon, however, the Silverstone-based team revealed that his EJ14 wasn’t working properly in the morning, either. ‘Maybe it was the gearbox,’ said Glock on Friday evening.

Head of race and test engineering James Robinson was still evaluating the failure-cause when he spoke to the press but he said it was ‘not acceptable.’ ‘It can’t happen to lose valuable time like that in both sessions,’ he said.

Michelin boss Pierre Dupasquier played-down suggestions on Friday that his French-tyred F1 teams like Renault and BMW-Williams are lagging behind Ferrari. He said the day’s fastest Michelin ace Jarno Trulli completed a long-run at the same time as Rubens Barrichello and there was barely a tenth between them.

Bridgestone counterpart Hisao Suganuma, however, was enthusing about new tire-specifications that lifted Michael Schumacher to no-less than two lap-records. ‘We’ve improved handling at the front,’ he said, ‘and traction at the rear.’ Asked what the improvement is from last season, he quipped: ‘About a second.’

3/5 /04

Notes: Saturday at Albert Park Cristiano da Matta is on ‘Full Attack’ for his second season in Formula One. The Toyota driver, born in Brazil, has those words printed on his airbox-filler and his steering-wheel at this weekend’s Australian Formula One Grand Prix. ‘It just reminds me to keep going all the time,’ he told us.

Melbourne’s crowd on Thursday and Friday broke previous attendance records. Official figures stood at 51,000 for Thursday, before a grand prix wheel had even turned, and then swelled to 80,000 as Ferrari went fastest on Friday.

Michael Schumacher’s new ‘six times’ cap will set you back $61 Aussie dollars. It’s just one item that can be purchased from the new 1000-square metre marquee at Albert Park in which all ten F1 teams are selling merchandise this year.

F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone helped open the ‘superstore’ and grand prix chairman Ron Walker said it would collect around $4 million this weekend alone. ‘I think it is reasonable to hope we’ll have it elsewhere too,’ said Mr. E.

A few drops of rain began to fall here at the Australian Grand Prix circuit, just south of picturesque Melbourne, before official practice on Saturday. But a weather source said the rest of the day will stay dry. Cloud hangs over the track at lunch-time and it should rise to 26-degrees later today, and some are worrying that the rain could switch to Sunday’s race-day.

3/5 /04

Schumacher fastest again, Juan 2nd Michael Schumacher again topped the time sheets in the final practice session at Albert Park before qualifying for the first Grand Prix of the 2004 Formula 1 World Championship. The German lapped in 1m25.093s, slower than his lightning fast Friday time of 1m24.718s. For the first time all weekend, it wasn’t a Ferrari 1-2.

Second fastest this time was the Williams-BMW of Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian stopping the clocks at 1m25.255s. His teammate Ralf Schumacher was third on 1m25.628s. the pair of them only completing nine laps each as they preserve their engines under the new rules. Rubens Barrichello was fourth fastest with a 1m25.649, with Fernando Alonso fifth in the Renault, and Olivier Panis an impressive sixth in the Toyota.

With the general dismay at the speed of the Ferraris on the opening day of practice in Melbourne, in the final session before qualifying it was interesting to see the top 10 covered by just 1.1s.

Position Driver Team Fastest Lap

1 Michael Schumacher Ferrari 1m25.093s

2 Juan Pablo Montoya Williams 1m25.255s

3 Ralf Schumacher Williams 1m25.628s

4 Rubens Barrichello Ferrari 1m25.649s

5 Fernando Alonso Renault 1m25.908s

6 Olivier Panis Toyota 1m25.916s

7 Jarno Trulli Renault 1m25.927s

8 Mark Webber Jaguar 1m26.066s

9 Kimi Raikkonen McLaren 1m26.127s

10 David Coulthard McLaren 1m26.133s

11 Jenson Button BAR 1m26.403s

Kawasaki Square Four 2 Stroke Prototype
Kawasaki Square Four 2 Stroke Prototype
Kawasaki Square Four 2 Stroke Prototype

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