Despite not having sat in his new mount before practice at Hockenheim, Robert Doornbos made a solid start to his career as a Minardi race driver by shadowing team-mate and countryman Christijan Albers in free practice on Friday.

The Dutchman managed to complete 45 faultless laps of the German circuit, his first as a race driver since transferring from the Jordan team to replace Patrick Friesacher, whose sponsorship problems created an opening alongside Albers for the rest of the season. Not only did the rookie make himself more familiar with the PS05-Cosworth and its technology, but he continually improved his pace on a track that was showing little sign of increasing its grip levels under cloudy skies.

Like his rivals, Doornbos used the first session to familiarise himself with the track, driving three runs of approximately six laps. With a busy programme to work through, however, the second session began with runs to gain useful information for the engineers, before Doornbos moved on to pit-stop and start practice. To finish off the session, last year's F3000 rookie of the year completed a long stint to evaluate tyres, recording his best lap of 1min 17.978secs to move himself ahead of the Jordans of Tiago Monteiro and Nicolas Kiesa, and close to team-mate Albers' 1min 17.830secs best.

"I focused particularly on the set-up of the car," Doornbos revealed, "Everything felt good from the very beginning, which made it possible to give significant information about the car to the team, which was followed up by measurable progression in output and speed. The main difference between the Jordan and the Minardi is the brakes, on top of which the Minardi has a much lighter feel.

"Thanks to the fact that I speak Italian, I immediately developed a strong connection with my race engineer, Riccardo Adami. During the sessions, we played around al lot with the buttons on the steering wheel, which are especially important for the race. The team is very satisfied about the results. Together with them, I am looking forward to the rest of the weekend and, obviously, to my first qualifying session on Saturday!"

Albers had hoped for more from his first day at Hockenheim, a circuit he knows well from his time in the DTM touring car series. He enjoyed a solid first session, but then came together with Giancarlo Fisichella in the second, which damaged the front suspension enough that it needed to be replaced. Because of this, Albers was left on the sidelines for most of the session and only covered 17 laps.

"It wasn't anything major," the Dutchman said of the clash, "Fisichella just hit my front, but it damaged a bit more than I expected. We couldn't just simply replace the front wing, but had to fix the front wheel suspension as well.

"I had hoped to do a bit more today than we did and, obviously, we lost a lot of valuable time, but hopefully we can do well tomorrow in practice and qualifying."

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