Schumacher crashes on sodden Suzuka circuit

Six-time Japanese Grand Prix winner Michael Schumacher suffered a setback in preparation for this weekend’s race here at Suzuka on Saturday when he crashed in the morning practice session.

Persistent overnight rain soaked the track and limited running in both 45-minute practice sessions but Schumacher was the first to brave the weather spun into the barriers in the opening session.

The outgoing world champion set the fastest time of the session with a lap of 1:46.543 before being caught out in the S-curves, losing control when his left front tyre slipped over the kerbs.

That spun him around before hitting the wall with the front left side of his Ferrari and damaging the car’s suspension and his team was not able to repair it in time to get him out in the second session.

Schumacher’s time put him 2,186 seconds clear of second-placed Kimi Raikkonen, of McLaren, but the times were little indication of true performance due to the limited running in the session.

Just 13 of the 20 cars set a timed lap in the first session, with both Renaults, both Saubers, both Toyotas and Robert Doornbos’ Minardi choosing not to complete a full run due to the heavily wet conditions.

Italian Giancarlo Fisichella was the pacesetter for Renault in the final practice but he left it late to set his lap of 1:50,136, slower than Schumacher’s earlier effort because rain continued to soak the track.

Indian Narain Karthikeyan, of Jordan, made it into the top two and almost finished the session ahead having set his flying lap in the closing seconds of the session but was bumped him down to second by just 0,014.

German Ralf Schumacher, of Toyota, finished third fastest with Briton Jenson Button fourth for BAR-Honda at the team’s home track and Dutch driver Christijan Albers handed Minardi a boost by finishing fifth.

Jordan’s Tiago Monteiro was sixth, Mark Webber, of Williams, seventh, Jarno Trulli eighth in the second Toyota, David Coulthard ninth for Red Bull and Robert Doornbos, the only man to complete double figures of laps, in 10th.

The McLaren pair of Kimi Raikkonen, who suffered an engine change here on Friday, and Juan Pablo Montoya, who is now favourite to win because of his teammate’s engine change penalty, chose not to run. - Sapa-AFP

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