Schumacher's attention to detail pays off

America got a taste of Formula One's political reality yesterday when an intended pre-event celebration of its return to the US after nine years' absence instead saw the FIA president, Max Mosley, dismissing threats to tobacco advertising, and delivering a swipe at Silverstone's prospects of holding the British Grand Prix beyond the expiration of its contract next year.

America got a taste of Formula One's political reality yesterday when an intended pre-event celebration of its return to the US after nine years' absence instead saw the FIA president, Max Mosley, dismissing threats to tobacco advertising, and delivering a swipe at Silverstone's prospects of holding the British Grand Prix beyond the expiration of its contract next year.

Reacting to suggestions that the British government was now proposing to withdraw its planned extension of the tobacco advertising ban to F1, he said dismissively: "I don't think it can be of any significance. There hasn't been any tobacco advertising in the UK for 25 years. A law made in the UK can only apply in the UK, so it won't have any impact whatsoever in F1."

Hitting his stride, Mosley also savaged Silverstone. "It certainly wouldn't hurt if in the UK we had a facility to the same standard as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," he said. "It is intensely embarrassing when people visit the UK and talk of staging a grand prix and then say they are going up to Silverstone to have a look and we say don't do that, and give them another list of places to go. I hope in the future that we do have a circuit of world-class standard.

"But there is very much a question over Silverstone as a GP venue. It's probably the worst circuit in the world from the point of view of the public getting in and out. The facilities there are very second rate and obviously need to be improved. The biggest problem is having pictures going all over the world of people stuck in traffic jams. Some took six hours to get there and never even got in."

By contrast the facilities at Indianapolis cannot fail to impress, the fact that no drivers had been able to experience the new F1 track prior to the weekend adding extra spice. Some drove it in their hire cars on Thursday, the more energetic walked it. But for Michael Schumacher the only way to learn the Speedway's F1 track prior to today's first practice sessions was to cruise round on his moped, stopping at regular intervals to inspect the surface. The German spent a lot of time examining the plastic kerbs. In the wet (and rain is predicted for today's crucial qualifying session) such knowledge could mean the difference between shrewd placement of the car and a hard trip into the unyielding outer concrete wall.

Several drivers had hitherto fallen back on the time-honoured method of the computer game. Jenson Button admits that electronic wizardry helped, "But I kept hitting the wall, which actually was the fast way around."

Button liked the circuit on his first acquaintance on Thursday. "It's interesting. With the banked last corner, it's quite strange. And there will be a temptation to go straight on the oval at the end of the main straight. But that would be quite fun..." Yesterday drivers focused on learning the circuit for real as their teams experimented with downforce levels. "F1 drivers are quick learners," Button said. "But it's clearly a level playing field, and that's good."

Michael Schumacher immediately set the pace, challenged initially by Mika Hakkinen and Jacques Villeneuve before Rubens Barrichello found his form in the second Ferrari. David Coulthard lasted only two laps before his McLaren-Mercedes ground to a halt, and Giancarlo Fisichella became the first casualty after sliding his Benetton into a tyre barrier.

Button, fourth fastest, found his initial impressions confirmed. "It's a good circuit," he enthused. "I'm not too sure about the two first gear corners, but the banking is really cool to drive on. I had a really good run there with Fisichella one lap, and the angle was absolutely superb." So far the auguries have been positive. "We've been trying to get back into the States for a long time," Bernie Ecclestone admitted, "and with Tony George's help we have been able to do that. Nowhere else could have done this, and we are here as long as he wants us."

US GRAND PRIX (Indianapolis) First free practice session: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1min 14.927sec; 2 R Barrichello (Bra) Ferrari 1:15.144; 3 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 1:15.707; 4 J Button (GB) Williams-BMW 1:15.741; 5 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Honda 1:16.429; 6 A Wurz (Aus) Benetton-Supertec 1:16.486; 7 J Trulli (It) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1:16.487; 8 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1:16.514; 9 E Irvine (GB) Jaguar-Cosworth 1:16.546; 10 N Heidfeld (Ger) Prost-Peugeot 1:16.626; 11 R Zonta (Bra)

 

 

BAR-Honda 1:16.699; 12 J Herbert (GB) Jaguar-Cosworth 1:16.739; 13 M Gene (Sp) Minardi-Ford 1:16.754; 14 P Diniz (Bra) Sauber-Petronas 1:16.838; 5 M Salo (Fin) Sauber-Petronas 1:16.909; 16 G Mazzacane (Arg) Minardi -Ford 1:16.950; 17 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW 1:17.064; 18 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Supertec1:17.232; 19 J Verstappen (Neth) Arrows-Supertec 1:17.469; 20 P de la Rosa (Sp) Arrows-Supertec 1:17.797; 21 J Alesi (Fr) Prost-Peugeot 1:19.400; 22 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes No competitive time.

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