BMW Sauber continued to set the pace in France this morning as they ended the final practice session with one-two thanks to Villeneuve and Heidfeld, after their third driver dominated both sessions yesterday. The hour-long session ended with a topsy-turvy final timesheet, with major favourites Renault and Ferrari finishing 11th and 14th best respectively. It was a very exciting session with driver taking their cars to the limit in preparation for qualifying for tomorrow's 70-lap race.
Villeneuve and Heidfeld lapped in 1:17.005 and 1:17.049 respectively, both slower than the fastest time yesterday. It wasn't as clear cut as it looked though for BMW as Toyota's Jarno Trulli lapped his TF106B half a tenth withing Villeneuve's time, a 1:17.056. Another big surprise were fourth and fifth places, as both Williams drivers, Rosberg and Webber, clocked times of 1:17.188 and 1:17.358 with big signs of improvement at Williams. Cosworth though are still unsure about Rosberg's engine, and might have to change it before the beginning of qualifying, after evidence of over-revving at the last race in Indianapolis.
Sixth was Jenson Button, with a time of 1:17.476, followed by both McLarens, Räikkönen on 1:17.556 and Pedro de la Rosa pushing him hard on 1:17.653. Ralf Schumacher (1:17.666) finished in ninth for Toyota with David Coulthard lapping in 1:17.859 to round out the top ten.
Amazingly, Giancarlo Fisichella's 11th place was Renault's best, although he did have an off-course excursion at the Imola chicane to blame for his lack of pace. Team-mate Alonso was well off the pace too, with him lapping his Renault in 1:18.447 for 16th place after he too had an off, this time at turn 5, the Adelaide hairpin. It wasn't all lost for Renault though, as rivals Ferrari couldn't do much better. Schumacher and Massa clocked times of 1:18.314 and 1:18.396 respectively for 14th and 15th places. Schumacher though had a real excuse, after his session was cut short due to a heat shield fire. His mechanics will have their work cut out for them to get the car ready for qualifying. Team-mate Massa spun in the opening stages of the session at turn 8.
12th and 13th places were occupied by MF1's Albers (1:18.059) and Toro Rosso's Liuzzi (1:18.199). At the end of the field, Monteiro (1:18.487), Speed (1:18.545), Klien (1:18.631) and Barrichello (1:18.961) all finished ahead of the two Super Aguris. In a turn out for the books, Montagny lapped quicker that team-mate Sato with home advantage, clocking a time of 1:19.497, compared with Sato's 1:21.497, 2.5 and 4.5 seconds off the pace respectively. Sato though did have a mechanical problem with his SA05, as it gave up the ghost after 10 laps.
In under two hours' time, the teams will be ready for the qualifying session. Although Renault and Ferrari are expected to jump back up the order, all eyes will be on BMW Sauber to see if they will be able to keep their stunning pace up, and possibly challenge for pole position. But, with the times so close in the mid-field, it could be very possible that we will see a number of high-profile knockouts, even possibly from the first 15 minutes.