Schumacher reigns in the rain

Michael Schumacher did not let a wild moment in the rain put him off his stride as he led the way in the rain-hit first practice sessions for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix. He ended second practice ahead of Giancarlo Fisichella and Kimi Raikkonen

Schumacher reigns in the rain

The Ferrari ace set his best lap of 1m45.388s about 15 minutes into the second session and, in trying to beat his own benchmark time again, he had a huge twitch coming out of the kink into the hairpin and was forced to head straight off the track rather than risk braking hard and spinning. He recovered quickly to get back on the circuit without drama.

Schumacher's rivals could do little to challenge the world champion's best lap, especially as the rain that has blighted the day got much heavier in the final 20 minutes of the session. Only Olivier Panis ventured out on the track in the last 10 minutes - but he could only crawl around the track as the rain left huge puddles everywhere.

Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella was the man who got closest to Schumacher, putting Bridgestone's apparent superiority in the wet conditions to good use as he ended up seven tenths of a second slower.

Kimi Raikkonen was the best Michelin runner in third position, but he will undoubtedly be concerned that his fastest effort was just more than 1.3 seconds off Schumacher - with the difference probably being accounted for on the tyre front. Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello was fourth fastest with Raikkonen's McLaren team-mate David Coulthard fifth overall.

The different performance of the two tyre manufacturers was proved beyond doubt with Jordan enjoying an ultra competitive day. Thanks to its Bridgestone tyres, Timo Glock proved that a lack of knowledge of the Suzuka circuit would be no hindrance as he ended the day sixth overall despite a spin at the hairpin immediately after setting his fastest lap. The Geman was just one hundredth of a second faster than team-mate Nick Heidfeld.

With drivers completing more laps in the second session there was inevitably a greater number of incidents - especially as the rain got harder throughout the hour.

Apart from Glock's spin at the hairpin, Fernando Alonso ran wide across the gravel trap at Degner 1, while Felipe Massa, Glock and Zsolt Baumgartner all had copycat spins in the middle of the Esses. The latter was unfortunate not to react in time and he ended up stuck in the gravel trap, while his Sauber and Jordan rivals were able to continue.

The major talking point of the day, however, was the weather - with more rain expected for qualifying on Saturday as well as fears that a typhoon may hit the day's events. Toyota's third driver Ryan Briscoe, who did not do any laps in the second session because he did not have any extreme weather tyres available, said: "The forecast is it is going to get worse."

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