Kimi, Schumacher, Alonso set up season challenge | india | Hindustan Times
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Kimi, Schumacher, Alonso set up season challenge

In Friday's first practice for the season-opening Bahrain GP, the trio emerged the fastest of Formula 1 race drivers.

india Updated: Mar 10, 2006 20:24 IST

Kimi Raikkonen, Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso started the 2006 Formula One season much the way they ended 2005- battling for supremacy near the top.

In Friday's first practice for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, Raikkonen, former champion Schumacher and current champion Alonso emerged the fastest of the race drivers.

Although Friday's test drivers had the top times, Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes led the real contenders with a time of 1 minute, 33.388 seconds on the 5.417-kilometer (3.37-mile) track on a warm, hazy, windy day in the desert.

Two test drivers, Robert Kubica of Poland in a BMW-Sauber clocked 1:32.179 and Alexander Wurz in a Williams had 1:32.184 were the fastest overall.

Schumacher, the seven-time champion whose Ferrari reign ended in 2005, was fourth at 1:33.469. Alonso, who became Formula One's youngest champion last year, had 1:34.887 in his Renault. The times compare favorably with last year's Friday's practice although the teams are running smaller engines _ V8s down from V10s. Many expected the cars to be two to three secds slower. This is the third race in the desert outside the capital, Manama, but the first time the Bahrain International Circuit will host the opener.

Last year, when Bahrain was the third race of the season, Alonso captured his second straight victory on his way to seven wins for the season.

Raikkonen also won seven races last season, but engine failures ruined the Finn's chances. Raikkonen also challenged Michael Schumacher when the German was winning his five straight titles for Ferrari from 2000 to 2004.

Rule changes last season brought Ferrari back to the pack, with Alonso and Raikkonen pushing Schumacher to third place on the driver standings _ his lowest finish for a full season since joining Ferrari in 1996. He missed seven races in 1999 with a broken leg and finished fifth.

At 37, Schumacher is the oldest driver on the grid and geared up to win again.

There are two more practice session Friday afternoon and Saturday morning.

Saturday afternoon will see the debut of a new qualifying system as the season introduces new regulations in hopes of boosting interest and competition.

Qualifying will be held in three phases. The six slowest cars will drop out after the first 15 minutes, and six more will depart after the next 15. The remaining cars will compete in a 20-minute session for the top spots on the grid.