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Alonso and Schumacher begin Japan showdown

Alonso and Schumacher begin Japan showdown

With a possible Formula One title on the line, Michael Schumacher took an early edge over reigning world champion Fernando Alonso by posting the faster time in yesterday's practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.
Both came out late in the second session after the sun emerged in the afternoon, allowing both drivers to use dry-weather tires on the 5.8-kilometer Suzuka circuit. The pair sat out the morning practice, deciding not to take any risks venturing out on the track left wet by morning showers.
Schumacher, who will retire after this season, could wrap up his eighth world title if he wins Sunday and Alonso drops out or finishes scoreless.
The drying conditions were almost identical to last Sunday's Chinese GP, where Schumacher won and Alonso had trouble with his tires.
"The weather forecast is supposed to steadily improve and that can only be good for us," Schumacher said.
Schumacher, the seven-time Formula One champion, came third in practice at 1 minute, 34.565 seconds just ahead of defending champion Alonso's 1:34.863.
Ironically both of their teammates were faster. Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella led with 1:34.337 with Ferrari's Felipe Massa was second at 1:34.408.
"We got a flavor of the situation and so it is hard to judge," Schumacher said. "The team is in very good spirits, concentrating on our work and everything seems to be going well."
Smoothing things over
Alonso was more concerned with smoothing things over with his team after he expressed some concerns Thursday about the support he was receiving from Renault and Fisichella.
Alonso, who joins rival team McLaren after this season, had expressed disappointment with Fisichella's actions in overtaking him during last week's Chinese GP.
"Once he overtook me and I overtook him again, and these risky moments with three races to win the championship. (It's) not good enough I think," he said Thursday.
He was at pains yesterday to play down the issue.
"I expressed very clearly that these were only my personal feelings, and that I completely understand and accept the team's decisions," Alonso said.
"Last night I explained that to the team and to Fisi, and there is no problem," he said. "Every single person at Renault is fighting to the maximum to win the championship."
Jenson Button in a Honda was fastest among the race drivers Friday with 1:35.002, just ahead of McLaren's Pedro de la Rosa at 1:35.064.
Kimi Raikkonen, who won here last year for McLaren, was in 10th with 1:35.367. Raikkonen is taking Schumacher's spot at Ferrari next season.
Schumacher's victory in Shanghai last weekend tied him with Alonso atop the driver's standings on 116 points, after trailing 25 points with seven races to go in the season.
The German's latest victory marked the 91st of his storied career and his fifth in the last seven races. Alonso started the season by winning six of the first nine races, the last coming in June at the Canadian GP.
Schumacher has clinched the F1 title twice in Japan (2000, 2003), beating McLaren's Mika Hakkinen each time. Overall, Schumacher has won at Suzuka event six times.


Updated : 2021-08-05 06:38 GMT+08:00