Alonso's Renault puts the smile back on French faces

When you aren't winning races, what's the best thing you can give your supporters in your home race? Why, fastest lap in a Friday practice session. That was what Renault and their driver Fernando Alonso duly delivered yesterday, as the Spaniard headed the two Ferraris and Lewis Hamilton's McLaren.

But even Alonso had trouble keeping a straight face as he admitted his performance had much to do with relative fuel loads and did not really mean that the 2005 and 2006 champions had found their way back ahead of the red cars.

"We were able to continue our free practice programme this afternoon without any problems," he said after an engine failure at the end of the morning's session. "We tried several new elements that we ran in the test last week in Barcelona, and everything went well and we completed our programme. But that does not mean that we have suddenly overtaken the Ferraris..."

Indeed not. Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen were focused on the usual Friday things of chassis set-up and tyre choice, and were less concerned about outright lap times. Hamilton was in the same mode, and he and Massa both explored and exceeded the limits of adhesion on more than one occasion.

"We made a great deal of progress this morning and seemed to get the car dialled in nicely to the circuit," Hamilton said. "This afternoon I unfortunately had a twitchy moment at the exit of Turn Three and ran wide into the gravel. It cut short my run with no major damage and slightly disturbed our run programme. At the end of the session, we tried out a new safety car timing system, which still needs a little more work. But today has shown we're looking quick this weekend."

Hamilton also demonstrated speed off-track. The previous day he had unequivocally indicated his support for fellow drivers who were considering possible strike action over the rising cost of their super licences, even though he is not a member of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. Yesterday, however, he changed his mind and issued a corrective statement which said: "In the FIA press conference at Magny-Cours on Thursday I expressed my support for whatever decisions the drivers may take, on the basis that my support could be critical."

"I am not involved in any strike talks; that is not my position. I am here to race; to do my job for the team, for myself and for the fans of Formula One.

"To put my comment in the correct perspective, another driver said, 'I think it will be difficult to get all the drivers to have the same idea, but we're trying to convince the FIA to reduce the cost.'

"I then responded, 'I've always said that they have my support; and it's something I agree with as well.'

"In any case, I don't believe for one minute that the drivers will take such drastic measures. We have the British Grand Prix in a couple of weeks' time and other grands prix to follow, and I'm certainly not planning on missing any of them."

Off the track there was further action as the mandatory controversy about the British Grand Prix reared its head, right on time to scare beleaguered members of the British Racing Drivers' Club ahead of their big event in two weeks.

This time, it was the suggestion that the race could go to Donington Park in Leicester, the scene of the Grand Prix of Europe in 1993 which was won sensationally by the late Ayrton Senna.

"We are discussing the possibility of reaching an agreement with Donington to host the British Grand Prix," Bernie Ecclestone was quoted as saying. "We are trying to save the British Grand Prix and we want it to be staged at a venue which befits an event of its stature.

"I have been in negotiations for a long time and whether or not we're going to do a deal with Donington or Silverstone, I don't know. Donington have said they are going to build everything we want. Have they got the money? Only time will tell. But I think there is more chance of Donington having the money than the BRDC."

Ecclestone's dissatisfaction with the BRDC is now part of the sport's folklore, but it is difficult to envisage Donington being any more successful than Silverstone in achieving the standards that Ecclestone demands of European tracks since, besides the track itself requiring a major upgrade, there are not sufficient hotels in the region.

When the ebullient Leicester developer and circuit owner Tom Wheatcroft finally achieved his dream of hosting a grand prix at Donington, back in 1993, poor weather ensured that it was a huge success and Senna won sensationally in changing conditions after trouncing the faster Williams-Renaults of Damon Hill (now president of the BRDC) and Alain Prost. But that price was a deficit believed to be £3.5m.

French GP practice times

First session: 1 F Massa (Br) Ferrari 1 min 15.30 sec; 2 L Hamilton (GB) McLaren 1:16.002; 3 H Kovalainen (Fin) McLaren 1:16.055; 4 K Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari 1:16.073; 5 R Kubica (Pol) BMW Sauber 1:16.377; 6 F Alonso (Sp) Renault 1:16.400; 7 J Trulli (It) Toyota 1:16.758; 8 S Vettel (Ger) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:16.838; 9 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW Sauber 1:16.870; 10 T Glock (Ger) Toyota 1:16.886; 11 N Piquet (Br) Renault 1:17.063; 12 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Renault 1:17.234; 13 M Webber (Aus) Red Bull-Renault 1:17.269; 14 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Toyota 1:17.394; 15 R Barrichello (Br) Honda 1:17.491; 16 S Bourdais (Fr) Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1:17.683; 17 K Nakajima (Japan) Williams-Toyota 1:17.696; 18 J Button (GB) Honda 1:17.928; 19 G Fisichella (It) Force India-Ferrari 1:18.072; 20 A Sutil (Ger) Force India-Ferrari 1:18.673.

Second session: 1 Alonso 1min 15.778sec; 2 Massa 1:15.854; 3 Raikkonen 1:15.999; 4 Hamilton 1:16.232; 5 Vettel 1:16.298; 6 Kubica 1:16.317; 7 Kovalainen 1:16.340; 8 Heidfeld 1:16.458; 9 Piquet 1:16.543; 10 Coulthard 1:16.572; 11 Rosberg 1:16.682; 12 Trulli 1:16.743; 13 Bourdais 1:16.758; 14 Nakajima 1:17.002; 15 Glock 1:17.092; 16 Webber 1:17.106; 17 Button 1:17.244; 18 Fisichella 1:17.394; 19 Barrichello 1:17.591; 20 Sutil 1:17.868.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk