De la Rosa Fastest in Practice 1 - France

McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa finished fastest in the opening Friday practice for the French Grand Prix, as McLaren and Renault battled it out at the front of the field

On-form McLaren enjoyed a one-two-three position midway through the session but Renault proved they will be contenders this weekend when Fernando Alonso stepped up to post the second fastest time.

De la Rosa's time of 1:14.778 put him 0.405 seconds ahead of title race leader Alonso by the end of the session, with the second Renault of Giancarlo Fisichella just 0.072 seconds further back in third.

Takuma Sato put BAR-Honda in the mix with the fourth fastest time, 0.752 seconds slower than de la Rosa, while Kimi Raikkonen was the fastest McLaren race driver in fifth, just more than a second behind.

Raikkonen split the two BAR-Hondas, with Jenson Button finishing sixth, while Olivier Panis, back in the cockpit to the thrill of the French fans, finished seventh for Toyota.

Juan Pablo Montoya made it three McLarens in the top eight and Ralf Schumacher, back after his crash in the United States Grand Prix, ninth for Toyota and Nick Heidfeld tenth for Williams.

Michael Schumacher was 11th fastest for Ferrari, Vitantonio Liuzzi, back after American Scott Speed took over the third Red Bull car in North America, was 18th while Toyota's Jarno Trulli failed to set a time.

The session began in temperatures of 22 degrees, around 10 degrees cooler than it was two weeks previously in Indianapolis, as the sun shone on Magny-Cours through patchy skies.

Frenchman Panis made the most of his return to the cockpit as he hit the track early on and set the first time of the weekend with a lap of 1:20.563 in his Toyota.

Panis then improved his time to a lap of 1:18.163 but regular Friday fast man de la Rosa soon upped the ante when he went almost one second faster in the third McLaren.

Liuzzi made a mistake early in the session when he spun through 360 degrees at turn 12 and was forced to take a trip through the gravel before returning to the pits.

With 25 minutes remaining de la Rosa was still on top on an improved time of 1:16.764 with teammate Kimi Raikkonen eight tenths slower in second and only nine drivers having set a competitive time.

Jordan driver Tiago Monteiro was the next man to make a mistake as he clattered over the kerbs in the final chicane and spun backwards over the gravel before parking up at the side of the track.

Raikkonen the went top when he leapfrogged de la Rosa to move ahead by 0.334 seconds as McLaren dominated the frontrunners with Panis 1.733 seconds down in third with 20 minutes to run.

But there was more to come from de la Rosa as he set a time of 1:14.778 to go top with Raikkonen second and Montoya then putting in a lap good enough to make it briefly a McLaren one-two-three.

Fisichella then went second, more than one-and-a-half seconds behind leader de la Rosa with 15 minutes to go, then the Italian's teammate Alonso went second.

Pos  Driver        Team                  Time                  Laps
 1.  de la Rosa    McLaren-Mercedes  (M)  1:14.778               21
 2.  Alonso        Renault           (M)  1:15.183  +    0.405   10
 3.  Fisichella    Renault           (M)  1:15.255  +    0.477   10
 4.  Sato          BAR-Honda         (M)  1:15.530  +    0.752   10
 5.  Raikkonen     McLaren-Mercedes  (M)  1:15.877  +    1.099   10
 6.  Button        BAR-Honda         (M)  1:16.038  +    1.260   11
 7.  Panis         Toyota            (M)  1:16.146  +    1.368   24
 8.  Montoya       McLaren-Mercedes  (M)  1:16.366  +    1.588   11
 9.  R.Schumacher  Toyota            (M)  1:16.731  +    1.953    6
10.  Heidfeld      Williams-BMW      (M)  1:16.758  +    1.980   11
11.  M.Schumacher  Ferrari           (B)  1:16.838  +    2.060   11
12.  Coulthard     Red Bull-Cosworth (M)  1:17.168  +    2.390    7
13.  Klien         Red Bull-Cosworth (M)  1:17.343  +    2.565   10
14.  Barrichello   Ferrari           (B)  1:17.389  +    2.611   10
15.  Webber        Williams-BMW      (M)  1:17.451  +    2.673   11
16.  Massa         Sauber-Petronas   (M)  1:17.777  +    2.999    7
17.  Villeneuve    Sauber-Petronas   (M)  1:18.192  +    3.414    6
18.  Liuzzi        Red Bull-Cosworth (M)  1:18.876  +    4.098   16
19.  Doornbos      Jordan-Toyota     (B)  1:19.001  +    4.223   20
20.  Karthikeyan   Jordan-Toyota     (B)  1:20.067  +    5.289   13
21.  Albers        Minardi-Cosworth  (B)  1:20.387  +    5.609   17
22.  Friesacher    Minardi-Cosworth  (B)  1:20.725  +    5.947   16
23.  Monteiro      Jordan-Toyota     (B)  1:21.725  +    6.947    6
24.  Trulli        Toyota            (M)  No Time                  

All timing unofficial
Previous article Michelin Drivers Confident of No Problems
Next article Dump BMW, Webber Tells Williams