The weather was the only real winner at Suzuka on Saturday morning, with the fastest man across two practice sessions, Michael Schumacher, having to sit out the second session having badly damaged his Ferrari in an accident.

Schumacher set the best time of the day at 1min 46.543secs right at the start of the opening 45 minutes, but crashed in the infamous Esses section while attempting to up his pace on the following lap. The German was unhurt as his Ferrari piled off the track following a 360-degree spin, but the Scuderia continues to investigate potential chassis damage after the nose and left front corner were wiped off against the tyre wall.

Only four drivers broke the 1min 50secs barrier all morning, with Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Montoya claiming second and third spots in session one for McLaren, and Mark Webber filling P4 for Williams. The two McLaren drivers then opted to sit out the entire second 45 minutes as conditions steadily worsened, believing that there was little to gain - and a lot to lose given Schumacher's off - in venturing out in teeming rain.

Webber did return to the track after the short interval, completing another five laps in his BMW-powered FW27, but was only seventh quickest in a session headed by Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella, and failed to get within 1.8secs off his earlier mark.

Fisichella managed to improve his time late in the second session, as conditions eased slightly, but the futility of the exercise as a pointer to weekend form was underlined by the appearance of both Narain Karthikeyan and Christijan Albers in the top five. With all due respect to both drivers - as well as Tiago Monteiro in sixth - no-one would expect to see Jordan and Minardi featuring as highly in qualifying, torrential rain or not, and the session was more of a lottery with the majority of flying laps set in the closing minutes. Karthikeyan did underline his wet-weather prowess with sixth in the earlier session, however, and could spring a minor surprise should qualifying be wet.

Indeed, Karthikeyan could have come out on top had Fisichella not found a little more in the Renault, but the Indian only trailed by 0.014secs at the flag. Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button and Albers were all also in the same 1min 50secs bracket, but filled third to fifth after the last-ditch improvements from the men ahead of them.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the number of incidents remained low despite the conditions, with Robert Doornbos the only notable spinner in part two. The Dutchman was caught out by the worsening conditions early on, but went on to complete ten laps after receiving a push-start and returning to the pits.



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