Free practice 2: Coulthard pips surprise package Irvine

David Coulthard loves Magny-Cours, and showed just why by topping the second free practice session for the French Grand Prix today (Friday) in his McLaren-Mercedes

Free practice 2: Coulthard pips surprise package Irvine

The Scot knows that a good result on Sunday is essential to close the gap to Ferrari's world championship dominator Michael Schumacher, whom he trails by a margin of 24 points. Coulthard lapped the Nevers track in 1m14.935s, while Schumacher languished in seventh place on 1m15.810s.

Although DC's fastest mark eclipsed last year's pole time by some seven-tenths of a second, his time was half a second slower than the quickest time in testing, a 1m14.40s set by Williams-BMW test driver Marc Gene.

Friday's second session provided a few surprises, as British American Racing's Jacques Villeneuve leapt to the top of the times for much of the session. His 1m15.224s was then eclipsed by Coulthard and, moments later, by Jaguar's Eddie Irvine on 1m15.133s.

Irvine spent almost all of the opening session on the sidelines after going off into the gravel on his first flying lap due to an electrical failure. The Ulsterman made up for his error in spades in session two by setting the fastest Michelin-shod time, just 0.198s slower than DC's overall best mark.

The first session's top man Mika Hakkinen slipped to fourth in his McLaren-Mercedes, ahead of Williams-BMW duo Ralf Schumacher (who recovered from his first session electronic problems) and Juan Pablo Montoya, who lapped within five-hundredths of each other in the 1m15.5s bracket. The Williams team doesn't tend to show its hand until tomorrow's free practice sessions, so don't rule out a big performance leap before qualifying.

Behind them came Schumacher Snr, who was fastest after 10 minutes of the session but fell back into the midfield on 1m15.810s. His team mate, Rubens Barrichello, was a lowly 10th, half a second off the reigning world champion's pace.

Jaguar's strength was underlined by Pedro de la Rosa, who was eighth fastest on 1m16.140s, while Jordan's Jarno Trulli was ninth as the Silverstone-based team was overshadowed by its Honda-powered rivals BAR. The second BAR of Olivier Panis was 11th quickest after slithering into the gravel early on.

Luciano Burti was 12th fastest, having run as high as seventh in the middle of the session, while Prost team mate Jean Alesi fared slightly better in the second period than he did in the first, ending up 15th.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen was a lacklustre 13th, ahead of Sauber duo Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld. The Finn outpaced his German team mate despite a high speed off at the daunting Estoril bend but, fortunately, he managed to avoid hitting anything other than the gravel trap, which destroyed his front wing.

Benetton looked set for a dismal day, with both Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella trailing the Minardis with 10 minutes remaining. Button then pulled his finger out, leaping to 17th, while Fisichella could only manage the 20th best time, four-tenths slower than recently much maligned young team mate.

Arrows slipped back in the second session, not helped when Jos Verstappen's Asiatech engine expired spectacularly just three minutes into the session at the first corner. Verstappen then commandeered team mate Enrique Bernoldi's car with 20 minutes to go, but could still only manage 18th, just ahead of the Brazilian.

Fernando Alonso outpaced Tarso Marques in the European Minardi ranks, the Spaniard ending up three-tenths slower than his nearest target, Fisichella.

For free practice session 2 results, click here.

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