September 9, 2005

Raikkonen fastest at washed-out Spa

By Alan Baldwin

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (Reuters) - McLaren's Kimi
Raikkonen lapped fastest in a rain-hit first day of practice
for Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

The Finn, preparing to take the fight to Formula One leader
Fernando Alonso, set a best time of one minute 48.206 seconds
in the morning session before steady rain washed out the
afternoon's action.

The second session was halted when Red Bull's Italian
reserve Vitantonio Liuzzi spun backwards into the metal
guardrail, sending sparks flying, after four minutes with only
him and Minardi's Robert Doornbos venturing out.

When the green light came on again, Renault's Alonso drove
carefully round for one lap to give the bedraggled fans
sheltering under umbrellas something to watch.

It was to be his only lap of the day after the 24-year-old
had sat out the morning session while Renault fixed an oil leak
on his car.

The Spaniard will become Formula One's youngest champion at
Spa if he scores four points more than Raikkonen, who won in
Belgium last year. Alonso leads by 27 points with four races
remaining, including Sunday's.


The crowd, turning out in far greater numbers for what
turned out to be a more meaningless Friday practice than at
last weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, saw just three cars
in the afternoon hour.

Even Ferrari's seven times world champion Michael
Schumacher, who said he was praying for rain to make conditions
unpredictable as his team's only hope of a good result on
Sunday, remained in the garage.

McLaren could still feel confident with Austrian test
driver Alexander Wurz reinforcing Raikkonen with the second
fastest time, a mere 0.010 slower.

The team also detected a problem with Colombian Juan Pablo
Montoya's engine before practice had started, changing it as a
precautionary measure without incurring a 10-place penalty on
the starting grid.

Montoya, triumphant at Monza last Sunday for McLaren's
third win in a row, had been due for a new engine anyway after
using the last one for the mandatory two races. The team simply
switched one new unit for another.

Renault, who lead McLaren by eight points in the
constructors' championship, had Italian Giancarlo Fisichella in
third place ahead of Toyota's Brazilian test driver Ricardo

However there were doubts about Fisichella's engine.

Ferrari's Schumacher, winner six times at a favorite
circuit where last year he won his seventh championship, was
eighth on the timesheets in the morning with Brazilian team
mate Rubens Barrichello 12th.