Raikkonen suffers practice disaster

Kimi Raikkonen suffered a disaster ahead of this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix when his McLaren failed halfway through opening practice as his teammate Pedro de la Rosa topped the times here on Friday.

Finn Raikkonen, who conceded the drivers’ world title to Renault rival Fernando Alonso at the last race in Brazil, has become accustomed to problems with his rapid but unreliable McLaren this year.

And with Sunday’s race vital for the team in terms of the constructors’ championship, the latest failure, which saw flames and smoke licking the rear of the McLaren, will come as another disappointment.

McLaren lead Renault by just two points in the title race with two races left to run and Raikkonen will have to drop 10 places on the grid for Sunday’s race after the team confirmed plans to change his engine.

Spaniard De la Rosa proved the car’s pace by setting the fastest time of the session with a lap of 1:30,532 that put him 0,543 seconds ahead of Toyota test driver Ricardo Zonta, of Brazil.

Briton Jenson Button was third fastest for BAR-Honda with compatriot David Coulthard fourth for Red Bull Racing and Juan Pablo Montoya, in the second McLaren, finishing fifth.

Renault pair Fernando Alonso, the new world champion, and Giancarlo Fisichella finished sixth and seventh with Takuma Sato eighth in front of his home fans in the second BAR-Honda.

Mark Webber finished ninth fastest for Williams and Christian Klien completed the top 10 finishers in the second Red Bull machine with all 24 cars completing a timed lap during the session.

Outgoing world champion Michael Schumacher, who has won four of the last five races here and been on pole in six of the last seven, finished down in 18th place with his team-mate Rubens Barrichello two places ahead in 16th.

Ferrari’s pace already looks set to disappoint this weekend and McLaren, who were the last non-Ferrari winners in Japan back in 1999, will be hoping their setback Friday will not stand in their way of securing the win.

Japanese driver Sakon Yamamoto (23) put in a strong performance on his debut as a test driver for Jordan, finishing 20th of the 24 runners and ahead of both race drivers Narain Karthikeyan, of India, and Portuguese Tiago Monteiro. - AFP


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