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Last Updated: Friday, 5 March, 2004, 04:06 GMT
Schumacher sets early pace
Michael Schumacher in action in Australia
1 M Schumacher (Ferr)
2 R Barrichello (Ferr))
3 J Trulli (Ren)
4 J Button (BAR)
5 F Alonso (Ren)
6 R Schumacher (Wil)
7 J P Montoya (Wil)
8 D Coulthard (McL)
9 M Webber (Jag)
10 K Raikkonen (McL)
Michael Schumacher stamped his authority on the new Formula One season by clocking the fastest time in practice for the Australian Grand Prix.

The world champion set a new track record in Melbourne of one minute, 24.718 seconds in the second session.

Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello was second, 0.108 seconds behind, with Renault's Jarno Trulli third fastest.

Britain's Jenson Button impressively climbed to fourth in his BAR while McLaren's David Coulthard was eighth.

Schumacher sent out an early warning to his title rivals by flying round the Albert Park track in 1:25.127 in the first session - that time was in fact the third fastest over the two sessions.

The 35-year-old German did not find it all easy going in an overcast Melbourne as he narrowly avoided slamming into a wall after sliding off onto the grass.

Schumacher lost control on his 13th lap of second practice and he steered his car back to the pits for repairs before returning for six more laps.

But despite that hiccup the six-times world champion was satisfied with the performance of the new F2004 car.

"It doesn't look like a big revolution from the outside of the new car, but it's quite a good step forward and we're very happy," said Schumacher.

Brazilian team-mate Barrichello also ran wide into the dirt but he did more than enough to ensure Ferrari stayed well ahead of the chasing pack.

Renault's Fernando Alonso was pushed back into fifth spot while Williams duo Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya were sixth and seventh respectively.

It's still too early to judge where we are with the tyres and the cars
Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn
The new-look McLaren MP4-19 was slightly off the pace as defending Australian Grand Prix champion Coulthard was almost 1.5 seconds off the lead.

Last year's championship runner-up Kimi Raikkonen was even further back in 10th with Jaguar's Mark Webber splitting the two McLarens in ninth.

New rules mean that drivers can only use one engine throughout the weekend and so many of the major teams were cautious about putting in too many laps in Melbourne.

Schumacher limited his first run out in the new F2004 car to just four laps while the McLaren drivers put in five laps each.

For the first time all but the top four teams in last season's constructors' championship are allowed to run a third car during the practice sessions.

Toyota's Ricardo Zonta was the quickest of the test drivers finishing in 14th place.

Minardi were not given the chance to put their spare car into action as test driver Bas Leinders was not given permission to compete.

The sport's chiefs rejected the 28-year-old Belgian's request for a super licence.

"He didn't have the necessary mileage in championships that the FIA recognises," said a Minardi spokesman.

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