Free practice 1: Hakkinen signals intent

McLaren-Mercedes began the French Grand Prix weekend in its accustomed manner, Mika Hakkinen giving his fading title hopes a boost with the fastest time.

Free practice 1: Hakkinen signals intent

But the trick now for the Woking-based squad will be to maintain its advantage over Ferrari and Williams-BMW through qualifying and the race - something it has failed to do in recent races.

Hakkinen's 1m15.899s fastest lap - just 0.267s off last year's pole time - pushed points-leader Michael Schumacher's Ferrari into second by 0.155s. David Coulthard was third quickest, 0.475s off his McLaren team mate, with Rubens Barrichello making it a Ferrari/McLaren lock-out of the first two rows.

Williams-BMW played best of the rest, with Ralf Schumacher fifth fastest and his team mate Juan Pablo Montoya sixth. Ralf stopped with mechanical problems at the Adelaide Hairpin, but found a handily-placed team scooter at the scene of his demise. The German completed only five laps, so expect the combo to make real progress in the second hour-long session.

Behind the 'big three', it was Honda all the way in the remainder of the top 10. Jarno Trulli took seventh for Jordan-Honda, ahead of Olivier Panis's BAR, Heinz-Harald Frentzen's Jordan and Jacques Villeneuve's boony-visiting BAR.

Continuing a seemingly well-defined pecking order, Sauber took the 11th and 12th slots, with Arrows lining up 13th and 14th. Just behind them, impressive Minardi rookie Fernando Alonso posted a stunning 15th best time for the F1 minnows - third best Michelin-shod machine.

The track was dusty, causing numerous spins, but times should tumble as the racing line is cleaned. Among those taking a trip into the gravel were Michael Schumacher and Jaguar Racing's Eddie Irvine, who hit the kitty litter on his first attempted flying lap and was forced to miss the rest of the session.

Williams aside, Michelin failed to make an early impression in its home Grand Prix. Indeed, the last eight places on the time sheets were taken up by teams equipped with the French rubber.

With major revisions to its Renault V10 scheduled for Magny-Cours, Benetton had hoped for an upturn in its fortunes, but may have to wait a little longer. Jenson Button set the 17th best time, before visiting the gravel, while Giancarlo Fisichella was 19th.

Unhappily for the Prost team, Luciano Burti and a nonplussed Jean Alesi could manage only 18th and 20th respectively.

For free practice session 1 results, click here.

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Friday First Free Practice - French GP

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