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Saturday, October 31, 1998 Published at 03:11 GMT


Schu off to sprint start

Schumacher checks the break-down of times after practice

Michael Schumacher fired an early warning to title rival Mika Hakkinen, with the fastest time in opening practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.


'It sounds worse than it is for McLaren' - Jonathan Legard in Suzuka (5 Live)
The drivers' championship is a two-way fight going into the final race of the season at Suzuka and it was Schumacher's Ferrari that impressed during Friday's exchanges.

And there was a double boost for the German after his team-mate Eddie Irvine also forced his way ahead of Hakkinen's McLaren.

Irvine was second at one stage, before dropping back to fourth.

But there was disappointment for Finland's Hakkinen, who had to settle for fifth place, with fellow McLaren driver David Coulthard in sixth place.


[ image: Hakkinen pushes on in his McLaren]
Hakkinen pushes on in his McLaren
Jordan's Ralf Schumacher and Heinz-Harald Frentzen of Williams broke up the Ferrari-McLaren domination by recording the second and third fastest times.

Hakkinen will win the championship if he finishes second in Sunday's race, even if Schumacher triumphs.

Schumacher gained the early psychological advantage after five weeks of intensive build-up to the title decider.

Mika falters after fast start

Hakkinen led at the end of the first session, but he was just 0.074sec ahead of his German rival, who chose to spend much of the first session discussing tactics with his team.

But after the break the double champion raced to the top of the standings.

And Schumacher then bettered his time, clocking a fastest lap of one minute 39.823 seconds.

Hakkinen eventually finished just over 0.8sec adrift.

Northern Ireland's Irvine also impressed, before suffering a setback when he lost the back end of the Frerrari at a right-handed corner late in the session and slid into a gravel trap.

Jordan's Damon Hill clocked the seventh fastest time and Johnny Herbert was 18th in his Sauber in his last race before joining Stewart Ford.



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