MAGNY-COURS (France): Championship-challenging Finn Kimi Raikkonen suffered a blow yesterday to his hopes of winning tomorrow's French Grand Prix when the engine in his McLaren Mercedes-Benz car failed after only three minutes of the second practice session.
Raikkonen, second in the title race with 37 points to Fernando Alonso's total of 59, will automatically drop 10 places on the starting grid if the team change his engine – a probability ahead of today's decisive qualifying session.
He was on only his first run in the afternoon when his car produced a cloud of black smoke and he slowed down and stopped out on the circuit. He completed only two laps of the twisting Magny-Cours circuit and did not venture out again.
While Raikkonen had to suffer and sit out most of the afternoon session, his McLaren teammate Juan Pablo Montoya shone under the low clouds by clocking one of the day's fastest times.
He wound up second quickest at the end of the hour behind Spaniard Pedro de la Rosa in the third “test car” McLaren, a performance that suggested the McLaren team are in competitive condition for the race.
Defending world champion Michael Schumacher of Germany, seeking his eighth win at the event held in remote agricultural land in Burgundy, was third for Ferrari, ahead of Alonso's Renault and Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in the second Renault.
The day's on-track action was, however, overshadowed in the morning by news of donkey-riding protesters who blocked a road at nearby Imphy and threatened disruption to traffic arrangements for the race.
The protest group said they were protesting at Formula One and the Grand Prix and wanted it to be stopped and taken away.
None of this worried the men in their cars as they provided incident-filled entertainment for the sparse crowd in the grandstands around the track.
After Raikkonen's early misfortune, Briton David Coulthard twice left the track at the Chateau d'Eau hairpin in his Red Bull car, recovering to rejoin the fray on each occasion. His mishaps showed he was pushing hard as the teams worked on assessing their tyres with various fuel loads.
Coulthard's Red Bull teammate Christian Klien of Austria was also involved in a major incident. He lost control of his car at the Nuerburgring chicane and slid sideways, and heavily, into the barriers.
One other notable effort came from the veteran French driver Olivier Panis, making a one-off Formula One return as a test driver for Toyota. He clocked the sixth-best time ahead of Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in the second Ferrari. – AFP
Second free practice times
1. Pedro de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren 1:14.460, 2. Juan Pablo Montoya (Col) McLaren 1:15.129, 3. Michael Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:15.204, 4. Fernando Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:15.242, 5. Giancarlo Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:15.380, 6. Olivier Panis (Fra) Toyota 1:15.483, 7. Rubens Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 1:15.605, 8. Jarno Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:15.774, 9. David Coulthard (Bri) Red Bull 1:16.371, 10. Jacques Villeneuve (Can) Sauber 1:16.430, 11. Jenson Button (Bri) BAR 1:16.645, 12. Felipe Massa (Bra) Sauber 1:16.753, 13. Takuma Sato (Jpn) BAR 1:16.894, 14. Ralf Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:16.925, 15. Vitantonio Liuzzi (Ita) Red Bull 1:16.987, 16. Mark Webber (Aus) Williams 1:17.107, 17. Nick Heidfeld (Ger) Williams 1:17.192, 18. Robert Doornbos (Ned) Jordan 1:17.574, 19. Narain Karthikeyan (Ind) Jordan 1:17.790, 20. Christijan Albers (Ned) Minardi 1:18.508, 21. Patrick Friesacher (Aut) Minardi 1:18.841, 22. Christian Klien (Aut) Red Bull 1:18.897, 23. Tiago Monteiro (Por) Jordan 1:19.228, 24. Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren.