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Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK

Schumacher impresses on F1 return

Michael Schumacher: Back in action on the first day of the Malaysian meeting

Michael Schumacher made an encouraging return to Formula One in a wet first practice session in Kuala Lumpur.

But there was disappointment for the race organisers as the opening day of the first ever Malaysian Grand Prix drew paltry crowds.

Schumacher clocked the fastest time of the morning session on his comeback after a seven race lay-off with the broken leg he suffered in the British Grand Prix.

Germany's two-time former world champion led in his Ferrari with 1:44.824 - but ended the day fifth overall with 1:42.875 as Canada's Jacques Villeneuve (1:42.407) went quickest in a drier afternoon session.

[ image: Mika Hakkinen sets his sights on his competitors during a break in practice]
Mika Hakkinen sets his sights on his competitors during a break in practice
Next came Scotland's David Coulthard, Jean Alesi of France and Ulsterman Eddie Irvine.

World title favourite Mika Hakkinen, who has a two-point lead over Irvine at the top of the table, was eighth after encountering traffic.

Schumacher said afterwards that he had come through his first track outing since mid-July with no problems.

"I am glad to say I felt absolutely no pain and so I was able to concentrate fully on the driving," he said.

"We are not far off the pace and I have enough time to improve so I am confident for qualifying."

'Interesting' circuit

The world's top drivers were testing themselves for the first time on the brand-new $75m, 2.09 mile circuit.

"The track seemed quite interesting with a good set of fast and slow corners," said Coulthard.

[ image: Schumacher prepares for his return to the F1 circuit in Malaysia]
Schumacher prepares for his return to the F1 circuit in Malaysia
The circuit's spectacular grandstand was sparsely populated for the arrival of Formula One, though qualifying tomorrow and race day are expected to draw 100,000-plus crowds.

Of more concern for the drivers, though, is the weather.

Fears that Sunday's race could be turned into a lottery with Malaysia in the midst of a monsoon season increased as rain hit the track for the 37th day in succession.

At one point during the practice session, spectators were treated to the sight of a leopard running alongside the track - a rare occurence in a sport more accustomed to Jaguars.

Friday's practice times for Malaysian Grand Prix:

1 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR 1:42.407
2 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren 1:42.519
3 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber 1:42.701
4 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 1:42.725
5 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:42.875
6 P Diniz (Brz) Sauber 1:43.006
7 R Barrichello (Brz) Stewart 1:43.042
8 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren 1:43.153
9 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton 1:43.311
10 J Herbert (GB) Stewart 1:43.349
11 G Fisichella (It) Benetton 1:43.403
12 D Hill (GB) Jordan 1:43.417
13 O Panis (Fra) Prost 1:43.500
14 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan 1:43.677
15 J Trulli (It) Prost 1:43.793
16 L Badoer (It) Minardi 1:44.818
17 R Zonta (Brz) BAR 1:44.968
18 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams 1:45.164
19 P De La Rosa (Spn) Arrows 1:45.397
20. A Zanardi (It) Williams 1:45.833
21 T Takagi (Jpn) Arrows 1:46.690
22 M Gene (Spn) Minardi 1:49.451

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