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Raikkonen fights back in Malaysia

Alan Baldwin | March 19, 2004 14:15 IST

Kimi Raikkonen fired McLaren back into contention to remind Ferrari and Michael Schumacher that they have a fight on their hands in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.

The Finn, who celebrated his first victory at Sepang a year ago, surprisingly topped the timesheets in afternoon free practice on Friday after Ferrari's six times champion left everyone trailing in the morning.

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Raikkonen's lap of one minute 34.395 seconds was well inside the official circuit record of 1:36.412 and also faster than Schumacher's first session time of 1:34.437.

His performance was just what McLaren needed after their worst start to the season in a decade.

The team scored just one point in the Australian season-opener, where Raikkonen suffered an engine failure and retired, and have not won a race since the Finn's Malaysian triumph.

The 'Iceman', runner up to Schumacher in a thrilling championship duel that went down to the wire last season, was 0.298 of a second quicker than Schumacher's younger brother Ralf in a Williams.

Australian Mark Webber, in a Jaguar, was third quickest on a sweltering and humid afternoon that meant drivers limited their running to avoid the risk of engine wear.

Schumacher, nearly a second faster than anyone else in the morning, was fourth quickest in a second session run at roughly the same time as Sunday's race and which clearly favoured Michelin-shod cars.

The German was the only driver on Bridgestone tyres in the top six in the afternoon, with Brazilian team mate Rubens Barrichello 10th. Sauber's Brazilian Felipe Massa, the former Ferrari test driver, was seventh.

While Ferrari ruled the morning, their rivals looked far more competitive in the afternoon heat with Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya fifth quickest for Williams ahead of Renault's Italian Jarno Trulli.

Spaniard Fernando Alonso, who put his Renault on pole position in Malaysia last year, was eighth on the timesheets.

The Honda-powered BAR team, who looked strong in Australia, had a disappointing day with Briton Jenson Button 11th quickest in the afternoon and ninth in the morning.

His Japanese team mate Takuma Sato went off and smashed the front wing of his car while test driver Anthony Davidson pulled over after just 10 minutes of the hour long session, losing valuable running time.

Sunday's race has been seen as an acid test for Ferrari's rivals after the Italian team ran away with the season-opener and raised fears of a one-sided championship ahead.

Even at their most dominant in 2002, when they won all but two races in a record-breaking season, Ferrari failed to triumph in Malaysia.

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