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Free Practice in Barcelona

It has been such a long break in between GPs that today’s free practice sessions are worth examining in a bit more detail than usual. And the news is that Alonso was fastest, perhaps putting an end to the silly speculation that he is under any pressure from Lewis Hamilton. The champion’s time was three tenths quicker than that of his closest challenger, Fisichella, and was set within the first half hour, whereas Giancarlo’s was a last minute effort.

Alonso

On the face of it, the McLarens seem to be the cars to beat, Massa and Raikkonen finishing with the fourth and sixth fastest times respectively. But this is only practice and the real test will come tomorrow in qualifying. For much of the second session the Ferraris were clearly working on race set ups, anyway.

The pace of the Renaults (second and third fastest) tempts one to think that they have solved their problems, but both times were set right at the end of the session and were probably minimum-weight morale boosters. Much more surprising was the Toro Rosso of Scott Speed. His time was set early on but remained good enough for tenth fastest at the end, later runs being spoiled by an off course excursion. Even presuming that the car was set up for speed rather than endurance, it was an unexpected lap and might give second thoughts to those who doubt Scott’s ability.

Other than that, it was pretty much business as usual, with the BMWs being a little slower than we might have expected and the Red Bulls also disappointing somewhat. As I predicted earlier this week, the Super Aguris are losing their grip on the midfield and drifting down towards the back of the grid. But the Toyotas were awful, even their late runs failing to lift them from the company of the back markers. Everyone may have made progress over the long break but it seems some have made much less than others.

The times have to be taken with a pinch of salt, of course, and the likelihood is that qualifying will produce a very similar grid to those seen in the first three races. But, unless Ferrari were sandbagging as never before, we will not see them dominate qualifying as I was beginning to fear. On this evidence, things will remain very close up front and we could enjoy a fiercely-fought battle on Sunday.

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Gilles Villeneuve Again

I was digging through the videos in YouTube this morning and came across yet more reminders of the bundle of determination that was Gilles Villeneuve. Regardless of whether you think he was the fastest of all time or just a little crazy, there is no doubting the man’s refusal to give up, no matter what happened.

Gilles

Here are a few samples of Gilles in all his glory:

Dutch GP, Zandvoort, 1979 – Gilles gets a puncture in the left rear, slides off the road but keeps the engine running and drives back to the pits. On the way, the tire comes off and the wheel begins to do the same; Gilles keeps going, right front wheel waving in the breeze, so low is the rear corner of the car. When he entered the pits, expecting a new tire, the mechanics just looked and shook their heads…

Canadian GP, Montreal, 1981 – The race is held in pouring rain and cars are sliding off everywhere. Gilles has a bit of an altercation and crunches the front wing but, hey, that’s nothing to this guy; he continues undaunted. The wing folds up on itself and eventually falls off, leaving Gilles to finish the race in a car without a nose. He was third.

Spanish GP, Jarama, 1981 – Gilles manages to get into second spot before Jones exits and leaves him in the lead. The Ferrari’s tires are going off, however, and the car handles like a pig through the corners. A train of cars builds behind Gilles, all much faster than him now, but somehow he holds them off and wins. This was probably the victory he had to work hardest for – at the end he was exhausted.

That was Gilles Villeneuve, a racer through and through.

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