Rubens Barrichello surprised onlookers by topping the times in Saturday morning's free practice session at Magny-Cours.


The Brazilian led the way as wet conditions hit the French Grand Prix venue, his perfect timing leaving rivals with no chance to improve their own performances as the track surface changed. Day one pace-setter Ferrari found itself relegated to fifth and sixth places, behind the Stewart, both McLarens and Ralf Schumacher's Williams, despite Michael Schumacher's attempts to defy the conditions on dry weather tyres.


Team-mate Eddie Irvine also suffered a harmless spin as both Ferraris ran with revised bodywork and the new 048B qualifying engine. McLaren, by contrast, enjoyed a trouble-free session, with David Coulthard holding off Mika Hakkinen for second spot. Schumacher Jr continued Williams' improved form at Magny-Cours, replacing Alex Zanardi in the top five despite a couple of spins of his own, as the team concentrated on honing its set-ups.


Sauber's Jean Alesi had another trying session, as he spun again - this time breaking the gearbox as he tried to rejoin the circuit - while Jordan and Benetton were happier with their performances after varying problems on Friday.


Saturday free practice (combined sessions) - French Grand Prix.


1. Rubens Barrichello Brazil Stewart-Ford 1min 17.232secs

2. David Coulthard Britain McLaren-Mercedes 1min 17.283secs

3. Mika Hakkinen Finland McLaren-Mercedes 1min 17.386secs

4. Ralf Schumacher Germany Williams-Supertec 1min 17.496secs

5. Eddie Irvine Britain Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 17.520secs

6. Michael Schumacher Germany Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 17.689secs

7. Heinz-Harald Frentzen Germany Jordan-Mugen 1min 18.030secs

8. Damon Hill Britain Jordan-Mugen 1min 18.170secs

9. Alex Zanardi Italy Williams-Supertec 1min 18.255secs

10. Ricardo Zonta Brazil BAR-Supertec 1min 18.484secs

11. Johnny Herbert Britain Stewart-Ford 1min 18.516secs

12. Jean Alesi France Sauber-Petronas 1min 18.595secs

13. Giancarlo Fisichella Italy Benetton-Playlife 1min 18.671secs

14. Jacques Villeneuve Canada BAR-Supertec 1min 18.777secs

15. Tora Takagi Japan Arrows-Arrows 1min 18.887secs

16. Jarno Trulli Italy Prost-Peugeot 1min 19.075secs

17. Pedro Diniz Brazil Sauber-Petronas 1min 19.171secs

18. Pedro de la Rosa Spain Arrows-Arrows 1min 19.214secs

19. Alex Wurz Austria Benetton-Playlife 1min 19.375secs

20. Olivier Panis France Prost-Peugeot 1min 19.403secs

21. Luca Badoer Italy Minardi-Ford 1min 20.388secs

22. Marc Gene Spain Minardi-Ford 1min 20.681secs

 

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