World champion Michael Schumacher was fastest on Friday as Ferrari dominated free practice for the San Marino Formula One Grand Prix. The German, winner here for the last two years and chasing a record-equalling eighth successive pole position, recorded a time of one minute 25.096 seconds on a drying track as the sun came out after a day of steady rain at Imola.
His Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello, criticised after he failed to finish his home race at Interlagos two weeks ago for the seventh year in a row, was second fastest in 105.372. Barrichello had been fastest in the morning, when the track was still throwing up spray, in 101.998. The times compared to former champion Mika Hakkinen’s pole position for McLaren in 2000 of 104.714 and can be expected to fall further in Saturday’s qualifying for Sunday’s race if the fine weather holds up. Hakkinen was fourth fastest, slower than the Williams of Michael’s younger brother Ralf. Frenchman Olivier Panis clocked the fifth quickest time in a BAR.
Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, the other Williams hope, watched much of the second session from the pit lane wall after recording only the 17th fastest time in the morning. Montoya, the Formula One newcomer who led for half the race in Brazil, put in two laps in the afternoon and did not improve his time from the morning. He ended as the slowest overall. Briton David Coulthard, Hakkinen’s team mate who won the last race in Brazil and is second in the championship behind Schumacher, spun off into the gravel trap and was 11th fastest. Dutchman Jos Verstappen, who ended Montoya’s race at Interlagos when they collided after the Colombian had lapped him, managed only seven laps after a troubled day.