Schumacher leads first practice

As the championship battle intensifies, Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen have set the pace in the opening free practice session at Suzuka, and are well clear of the opposition

Schumacher leads first practice


Michael Schumacher drew first blood in Suzuka as he topped the times in first practice on Friday in the build up to Sunday's race which could decide the destiny of the world title. (Photo: Allsport)

Hakkinen had been just 0.060s clear of Schumacher into the final 10 minutes as the intensity of their scrap in the very first session of the weekend carried them 0.7s clear of the rest of the field.

But with two minutes to go the German carved close to another half a second out of Hakkinen's best time to top the times.

David Coulthard was third fastest and Rubens Barrichello, who ended the session in the sand, was fourth. Best-of-the-best rivals Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella who are battling over fifth place in the drivers championship were respectively fifth and sixth.

But all eyes were on the championship rivals who left the rest of the field in their wake.

Schumacher has an eight point lead in the title race and will become champion if he wins in Japan. However, Hakkinen needs the win to have a battling chance of rescuing the championship at the last round in Malaysia in two weeks time.

Jacques Villeneuve had a lurid spin at 130mph at Degner Curve but avoided hitting anything.

For the Japanese GP free practice times from Fiday morning's first session, click HERE.

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