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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 08:35 GMT 09:35 UK
BAR grab top spots in China
Anthony Davidson in the BAR, which sports new livery at the Chinese Grand Prix
Davidson earned maximum publicity for his car's new livery
BAR test driver Anthony Davidson set the pace in Friday practice ahead of the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix.

The Englishman, who will not race, was fastest in both sessions at Shanghai's spectacular 168m track, setting a time of one minute 33.289 seconds.

Davidson's team-mate Jenson Button was second fastest, 0.885secs behind.

Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard were third and fourth for McLaren, followed by Rubens Barrichello of Ferrari and Sauber's Giancarlo Fisichella.

Davidson said: "It's a good circuit and I got to grips with it quite quickly.

"We found a good balance in the car... and we are happy with our day's work."

BAR's second race driver, Takuma Sato, was not so lucky. He has been penalised 10 places on the grid because of an engine failure.

World champion Michael Schumacher was eighth fastest in his Ferrari, behind the Williams of his brother Ralf, who is making his return from injuries suffered in a crash in June's US Grand Prix.

"Usually, we are at the top but for whatever reason we are not today," Schumacher said.

"I'm pretty sure we'll find solutions. But it's simply a different architectural circuit. It's all very different because you can make a lot of mistakes."

Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, making his Formula One comeback with Renault after a year's absence, was 15th.

Davidson's car was painted in a new livery to reflect a different brand of cigarette owned by BAR's owner, the tobacco giant BAT, which has a huge market in China.

The Shanghai track has been given lavish praise by F1 personnel, with Michael Schumacher describing it as the best facility he has ever seen.

Renault team boss Flavio Briatore said it set a new benchmark for F1 circuits around the world.

Silverstone will never achieve this kind of stadium because it just doesn't have the government funding behind it
Jim Wright
Commercial director, BMW Williams
But the track has been criticised for setting its admission prices too high for the local Chinese market.

The cheapest ticket is 25, which is cheap in European terms but equates to about a week's wages for the average Chinese worker.

Despite that, all 170,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday's race.

BMW Williams' commercial director Jim Wright described the race as "hugely important" for F1.

"We are a world championship and in order to claim truly global status it is apposite that we are in the Chinese market place," he told BBC Sport.

Wright said there was a "huge appetite" for F1 in China.

Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari passes the spectacular media centre at the Shanghai track
The state-of-the-art Shanghai track has wowed F1 personnel
He said the main reason for the race's introduction was a huge push by the car manufacturers and other companies involved in the sport to have a exposure in such a huge market.

Britatore said the standard of the track put European race tracks to shame.

"The circuits in Europe are now looking really, really bad. We should invite promoters from Europe, from Magny-Cours and Silverstone, to come here," Briatore said. "This is fantastic and this one is really, really difficult to beat."

Wright said the Chinese had spared no expense on the building of the track and praised the detail work as "superb".

But he said it was unfair to equate the two types of track because of huge differences in funding available.

"Silverstone will never achieve this kind of stadium because it just doesn't have the government funding behind it," Wright said.

"But there is a role and a place for Silverstone because not every circuit on the F1 schedule could and should be new wave, state-of-the-art, futuristic. We still need the heritage events like Silverstone, Monte Carlo, Monza etc."




SEE ALSO
Sato hit with grid penalty
24 Sep 04  |  Formula One
China track lauded by F1
24 Sep 04  |  Formula One
Cash fears worry Mosley
24 Sep 04  |  Formula One


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