Kimi Raikkonen confirmed Ferrari's recent upturn in form by setting the pace throughout the opening free practice session ahead of this weekend's French Grand Prix, with team-mate Felipe Massa backing him up in second as previous pace-setters McLaren trailed uncharacteristically behind.

Indeed, what was most surprising was not so much the fact Ferrari was fastest - most prominently in the first sector - but rather the margin of the Scuderia's dominance, with Fernando Alonso a full eight tenths of a second adrift in third place and recent pace-setter Lewis Hamilton down in sixth after his MP4-22 suffered mechanical woes on the 22-year-old's very first flying lap. Whether McLaren were sand-bagging or not remains to be seen, but it was certainly a welcome shot in the arm for the scarlet cars after a barren run since Massa's triumph in Barcelona four races ago.

Following Alex Wurz's podium finish in Montreal and team-mate Nico Rosberg's strong run a week later at Indianapolis, Williams once again demonstrated encouraging pace, with a late effort from the German hoisting him up to a superb fourth on the timesheets and the Austrian not far behind in eighth.

David Coulthard was also in the mix for Red Bull Racing, the Scot vaulting up the order from 16th position to fifth in the dying minutes of the session to steal away Hamilton's mantle of top Brit.

The consistent Nick Heidfeld wound up seventh in his BMW-Sauber, with returning team-mate Robert Kubica showing few ill-effects from his terrifying Canadian Grand Prix smash just a tenth of a second and two places further back.

Jarno Trulli completed the top ten in his Toyota, having featured amongst the leading five for much of the session. The Italian was some seven places and half a second clear of under-fire team-mate Ralf Schumacher, who continues to fight for his F1 future.

Vitantonio Liuzzi ended the 90-minute session in eleventh, ahead of Takuma Sato, Honda pairing Rubens Barrichello and Jenson Button, Scott Speed and Anthony Davidson. One of the biggest shocks was Renault's poor showing at its home circuit, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen languishing way down the pecking order in 18th and 19th, and Mark Webber's similarly Renault-powered Red Bull Racing machine similarly off the pace in 20th.

Spyker as usual brought up the rear of the pack, with Christijan Albers suffering an 'off' at Estoril on his way to 21st position and Adrian Sutil only emerging right towards the end to go 22nd.

The second 90-minute practice session will get underway at 13:00 British time.

 

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