Practice 2: Alonso sets pace for Renault

Renault's Fernando Alonso topped a see-saw opening practice session on Saturday morning for the French Grand Prix, which also featured Ferrari and Williams at the top of the times during the 45-minute period

Practice 2: Alonso sets pace for Renault

Michael Schumacher set the pace early in the session, although his both Ralf soon took over at the top of the time-sheets. But Spaniard Alonso found pace when it counted, setting a fastest lap of 1m16.076s with just five minutes to go, to give Renault something to cheer on home soil.

The drama wasn't over yet, as Rubens Barrichello began to threaten Alonso's time. He might well have beaten it, but he ran wide at the Adelaide hairpin on what was, until that point, his fastest lap.

Several other drivers had off-track moments during the session. Michael Schumacher ran wide and went off at the chicane early on, although he managed to keep his car on the concrete run-off and escape without damage.

David Coulthard had a more dramatic moment, launching his car on the inside of the final chicane. This caused him to run off the track on the corner's exit, where he came mightily close to crashing heavily into a concrete wall.

After losing out in the damp conditions yesterday, the Michelin tyres looked to have a clear advantage over those of rival Bridgestone. Aside from the Ferrari duo in second and fourth, the next fastest car using the Japanese firm's tyres was Jenson Button's BAR in 12th, although the Briton's running was hampered by an engine failure which occurred shortly after the end of the session.

Jaguar's Antonio Pizzonia was the only Michelin runner to break the Bridgestone stranglehold on the bottom nine of the timesheets. The Brazilian looked ragged for much of the session, and at one point managed to go off at two corners in a row! He first ran off the track at Imola, and was then so busy wrestling his car back under control that he forgot to turn in for the next corner, Cheateau d'Eau.

Normal service was resumed for Minardi after the team's shock performance in first qualifying. On a dry track, Jos Verstappen could only manage 19th fastest, with only his team-mate Justin Wilson behind him.

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Minardi Dreaming after Freakish Qualifying

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