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Alonso makes China giggle

By Raja Sen in Shanghai
September 29, 2006 19:42 IST
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Just because practice sessions aren't televised events, that doesn't make them any less exciting. Quite the converse, in fact, as these are the moments that signal the opening of a race weekend: Audience, meet the drivers. Drivers, here is your circuit. Go.

The Chinese Grand Prix got into gear with the 1st and 2nd Practice Sessions on Friday. And for all of you who have only seen the sport on television, believe me, you are not ready for this sound. Two kilometers outside the stadium, as the first cars began to gun their engines, one had to yell to be audible. Inside, the first session began making you feel like you were in a disaster movie: an engine growls to life without warning, its roar resonating around the circuit; then the floorboards thunder, as if the devil was trying out his subwoofer; and before you can accurately gauge direction or insignia, a Formula One car flies past you, leaving your jaw near your sneakers.

Without giving you any time to breathe, suddenly there are two of them, then three. All engines gunned to the maximum, and without any grid-position worries, each of them racing pedal-to-the-metal. There's a massive-television screen right by the track, but it takes you a while to get over the intoxicating raw rumble of the superbly tuned engines and actually turn to it to see what happens. On screen, watching a car race by seems tame and achingly slow: sitting next to the straight watching a Red Bull hustle a Renault is what speed is all about.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. You might want to know what actually happened in the sessions, in terms of timesheets. Alexander Wurz dominated both sessions, the charismatic test driver for Williams setting a scorching pace for all of the afternoon. While several drivers chose not to run in Session 1, including Giancarlo Fisichella and World champion Fernando Alonso, the rest of them took to the track instantly.

Like Wurz, Honda test driver Anthony Davidson did over 20 laps to take 2nd place, while Jenson Button and Michael Schumacher took 4 laps each to come 3rd and 4th respectively. And even as Alonso watched from the pit-lane, Ferrari's newest hire Kimi Raikkonen spun his McLaren at Turn 7 to post an 18th-place time more than 10 seconds off Wurz's pace.

The second session came along and no one was sitting still this time. Again, Wurz set the pace with a blistering 1:35.539, followed closely by the man who maximized the afternoon's thrills: a 1:35.579 by new BMW-wonderboy Sebastien Vettel. But while these men and Ant Davidson, still in P3 might have set the best pace of the day, they won't be lining up for the race come Sunday.

So which of the racers finished tops?

Well, lets just say the scarlet boys did their job alright. Felipe Massa posted his P4 time in 8 laps, while Schumacher took 12 laps but stayed in P5. What of his big rival, you ask? Well, Alonso gave the circuit 10 laps and stayed less than a tenth of a second behind Schumacher, but not before regaling the crowd.

His first run, while not startlingly impressive, was his best and as he tried furiously to wrestle his car up the timesheets, pretty Shanghai girls in the stands suddenly started taking out their umbrellas: yes, suddenly the skies were opening up. A light drizzle began, leaving the more whimsical of us to dream of a superb wet session, with cars and crowds drenched as a violent spray would separate the men from the boys. And give us lots of spins to look at, heh. That didn't quite happen, as the shower stayed very light indeed, but its first signs were enough for the World champion to spin his Renault off the track.

I'd like to say the stadium echoed with laughter, but there was a mere smattering of giggles and gleeful shrieks, simply because crowds tragically choose to leave out Friday from their calendars. The crowd today was almost exclusively made up of local Chinese spectators -- except, of course, Europeans crowding the paddock area. It's a shame because this is one of those days when you see drivers really pushing themselves, and enjoying having a go at each other, minus pressure.

The immense sound refuses to leave your ears as you walk away from the stadium, and as people try to sell you ridiculously expensive official merchandise and relatively expensive counterfeits within half a kilometer of each other, you realise that in two-days time, 200,000 people will pack the Shanghai circuit. And the cars won't be the only ones making the noise.


01 A. Wurz Williams 1:35.539 26 laps

02 S. Vettel BMW 1:35.579 23 laps

03 A. Davidson Honda 1:35.714 30 laps

04 F. Massa Ferrari 1:36.599 8 laps

05 M. Schumacher Ferrari 1:36.641 12 laps

06 F. Alonso Renault 1:36.739 10 laps

07 F. Montagny Super Aguri 1:37.278 26 laps

08 M. Ammermuller Red Bull 1:37.678 26 laps

09 T. Monteiro Spyker MF1 1:37.698 13 laps

10 G. Fisichella Renault 1:37.716 12 laps

11 J. Button Honda 1:37.861 10 laps

12 P. de la Rosa McLaren 1:38.022 9 laps

13 M. Webber Williams 1:38.045 6 laps

14 N. Heidfeld BMW 1:38.062 11 laps

15 A. Premat Spyker MF1 1:38.098 26 laps

16 R. Barrichello Honda 1:38.276 16 laps

17 R. Schumacher Toyota 1:38.888 14 laps

18 J. Trulli Toyota 1:38.959 11 laps

19 S. Speed Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:39.080 18 laps

20 N. Jani Scuderia Toro Rosso 1:39.118 28 laps

21 K. Räikkönen McLaren 1:39.179 4 laps


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Raja Sen in Shanghai

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