Schumacher spreads fear as Wurz has best practice

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Michael Schumacher sent ripples of fear along the pit road as he expressed his satisfaction with his new Ferrari, but it was the forgotten man Alexander Wurz who stepped into the limelight here yesterday.

Michael Schumacher sent ripples of fear along the pit road as he expressed his satisfaction with his new Ferrari, but it was the forgotten man Alexander Wurz who stepped into the limelight here yesterday.

The 31-year-old Austrian, who last raced for Benetton in 2000, was called up to drive the third McLaren-Mercedes after Juan Pablo Montoya's controversial accident last weekend, and used the opportunity to remind the world of his prowess by setting the day's fastest time.

Friday is notoriously a dangerous day on which to form hard and fast opinions, the more so at this desert venue where sand blowing on to the track can create misleading conditions, but Wurz's performance was a fillip for a team who have a great car but are seen by some to be teetering on the edge of self-destruction.

On the same day as Montoya's so-called "tennis accident", which resulted in the shoulder injury that has kept him out of the race, there were scares that his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen might also be out of action after reports reaching his team boss Martin Whitmarsh allegedly suggested that the Finn had hurt himself in a fall at a party. These proved wide of the mark, however, and on the day on which the lead drivers in those teams which run three cars tend to conserve their equipment, Raikkonen ended his day only eighth fastest.

Besides the question of whether McLaren can unlock the potential of their MP4/20, which was a match for the all-conquering Renault during pre-season winter testing, the other talking point was the arrival of Ferrari's new car following Schumacher's disappointing races in Australia and Malaysia. The champion was satisfied with fifth-quickest yesterday, behind the series leader Fernando Alonso, the Red Bull upstart Vitantonio Liuzzi and Montoya's stand-in, Pedro de la Rosa.

"It was really nice to be driving the new car for the first time at a race meeting," Schumacher said. "It felt very good. We ran through our entire planned programme and everything went very smoothly. I did enough laps to have a good idea in which direction to work. It was a pleasing debut for the new car and an encouraging start to the weekend."

Not so encouraging, however, was a gearbox problem which kept his team-mate Rubens Barrichello on ice. Ferrari have so few spares for their new car that the transmission had to be repaired overnight. Normally it would simply have been replaced.

"I have no worries," said Alonso. "The car balance was pretty good and we seemed quite quick. Always Ferrari are very strong, and they are one of the favourites, and for sure they have got their new car and they will be more competitive than they were in the last race. But Renault won the first two races of the season and we are now the team to beat. It is not for us to beat the others. And last year I think that Ferrari did not have a bad car. They key to beating them is not just the car."

Ferrari's tyre supplier, Bridgestone, have brought different tyres here in the hope of challenging the dominance of Michelin, but it will not be until qualifying today that the value of their labour will become apparent.

Sir Jackie Stewart has accused factions within the British Racing Drivers' Club of underhand dealings and is resisting calls for him to stand down as the club's president.

"I have been asked to do that by co-ordinators of an incredibly badly worded straw poll sent to a certain number of people," the former champion said in Bahrain yesterday.

"Actually, as president I stand for membership election every year. What they really want is for the president not to be a board member, and that has been in the club's rules for 76 years. I think there is dirty work going on at the crossroads, a lot of it in my opinion unethical, but if I am asked by the members to stand down, then of course I will. But until then I have no intention of changing my role within the club."

BAHRAIN GRAND PRIX (Sakhir) Second practice: 1 A Wurz (Aut) McLaren-Mercedes 1min 30.695sec; 2 F Alonso (Spa) Renault 1:31.969; 3 V Liuzzi (Ita) Red Bull-Cosworth 1:32.319; 4 P de la Rosa (Spa) McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.333; 5 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:32.431; 6 J Trulli (Ita) Toyota 1:32.595; 7 G Fisichella (Ita) Renault 1:32.708; 8 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:32.968; 9 J Button (GBR) BAR-Honda 1:33.037; 10 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota 1:33.077; 11 N Heidfeld (Ger) Williams-BMW 1:33.152; 12 T Sato (Jap) BAR-Honda 1:33.205; 13 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull-Cosworth 1:33.436; 14 R Zonta (Br) Toyota 1:33.433; 15 M Webber (Aus) Williams-BMW 1:33.563; 16 D Coulthard (GBR) Red Bull-Cosworth 1:33.708; 17 F Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas 1:33.726; 18 N Karthikeyan (Ind) Jordan-Toyota 1:33.981; 19 R Doornbas (Mon) Jordan-Toyota 1:34.222; 20 J Villeneuve (Can) Sauber-Petronas 1:34.300; 21 T Monteiro (Por) Jordan-Toyota 1:34.727; 22 P Friesacher (Aut) Minardi-Cosworth 1:35.325; 23 C Albers (Neth) Minardi-Cosworth 1:36.094; Not Classified: R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari.