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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 09:16 GMT
Schumacher fastest despite crash

Schumacher's car was badly damaged
Michael Schumacher started the new Formula One season with a spectacular crash as he set the fastest time in Friday's practice for the Australian Grand Prix.

The accident overshadowed the debut of British 20-year-old Jensen Button, who set 18th-fastest time in almost error-free run.

It was my fault......I was simply going too fast for the situation but I am OK

Michael Schumacher
Schumacher was unhurt as he clambered from his badly-damaged new Ferrari which he slammed into a tyre barrier on the Melbourne track.

The last time the German hit a similar obstacle - at Silverstone last July - he broke his leg and missed six races.

Schumacher admitted that this latest mishap was self-inflicted.

Button was told to get out and learn the circuit
"It was my fault. The car slipped away from me, I lost control - I was simply going too fast for the situation," he said.

Schumacher's quickest lap before the error was a tenth of a second faster than McLaren's David Coulthard, who span 360 degrees at the same corner as the German.

Ferrari's new Brazilian driver Rubens Barrichello set third time ahead of defending champion Mika Hakkinen - another front-runner to spin during the session.

Button's secure start

BAR's former title-holder Jacques Villeneuve was best of the rest while most eyes were on Button.

The youngster was quicker than F1's most experienced current driver Jean Alesi, and fellow debutant Nick Heidfeld from Germany.

Button was also just four-tenths of a second off the pace set by team-mate Ralf Schumacher.

Schumacher watched the session finish from the pit wall
"I am pretty satisfied with what went on today," said the Williams new-boy.

"The brief from the team was to go out there and learn the circuit and get into the swing of things."

But the arrival of the fifth-youngest Grand Prix driver in history was overshadowed by Michael Schumacher's accident.

The two-time world champion lost control of his Ferrari at a right-handed corner and slid across the gravel before hitting the barrier.

A couple of his own tyres ripped off in the process but the pre-season title favourite was still able to step away from the cockpit.

After hitching a lift on the back of a motorcycle to the Ferrari garage he watched the last moments of the session from the pit-wall.

"I am okay and at least we can say we are fast," he said later.

Decent start: Button was steady and almost error-free
"Rubens and I are up there and we are not one second behind the McLarens so apart from the accident I am quite content."

Coulthard admitted he had come close to joining Schumacher in needing a lift home.

"The spin scared the hell out of me. I got on the radio and told the guys, 'That was close'," he admitted.

"The back-end just slid away from me at the corner."

Jaguar's return to the sport after taking over the Stewart team saw mechanical problems for both British drivers Eddie Irvine and Johnny Herbert.

Last year's championship runner-up Irvine was 10th before his Jaguar car stopped on the track while Herbert had a similar problem and set the 17th-best time.

Friday's practice times:

1 M Schumacher (Ger/Ferrari) 1.32.130 (average 207.215 kph)
2 D Coulthard (Gbr/McLaren-Mercedes) 1.32.144
3 R Barrichello (Bra/Ferrari) 1.32.482
4 M Hakkinen (Fin/McLaren-Mercedes) 1.32.702
5 J Villeneuve (Can/Bar-Honda) 1.33.525
6 P Diniz (Bra/Sauber-Petronas) 1.33.597
7 H-Harald Frentzen (Ger/Jordan-Mugen-Honda) 1.33.698
8 A Wurz (Aut/Benetton-Playlife) 1.33.718,
9 R Zonta (Bra/Bar-Honda) 1.33.847
10 E Irvine (Gbr/Jaguar Racing) 1.33.899
11 M Salo (Fin/Sauber-Petronas) 1.33.940
12 G Mazzacane (Arg/Minardi-Fondmetal) 1.33.988
13 G Fisichella (Ita/Benetton-Playlife) 1.34.049
14 P de la Rosa (Esp/Arrows-Supertec) 1.34.060
15 J Trulli (Ita/Jordan-Mugen-Honda) 1.34.151
16 R Schumacher (Ger/Williams-BMW) 1.34.158
17 J Herbert (Gbr/Jaguar Racing) 1.34.414
18 J Button (Gbr/Williams-BMW) 1.34.547
19 M-Gene (Spa/Minardi-Fondmetal) 1.34.696
20 J Verstappen (Hol/Arrows-Supertec) 1.34.708
21 J Alesi (Fra/Prost-Peugeot) 1.35.613
22 N Heidfeld (Ger/Prost-Peugeot) 1.35.997

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See also:

10 Mar 00 |  Motorsport
F1 2000: Circuit by circuit
10 Mar 00 |  Motorsport
F1 2000: Driver by driver
08 Mar 00 |  Motorsport
Ready for the ride
06 Mar 00 |  Motorsport
Button: I'm ready
01 Mar 00 |  Motorsport
F1 driver voices Button fears
Links to other Motorsport stories are at the foot of the page.