Alonso, Raikkonen begin Brazilian duel

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Fernando Alonso wasn't discouraged by a slower second practice on Friday for a Brazilian GP Prix in which he could be crowned the youngest F1 champion.

Updated: February 25, 2007 10:49 IST
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Sao Paulo:

Fernando Alonso wasn't discouraged by a slower second practice on Friday for a Brazilian Grand Prix in which he could be crowned the youngest Formula One champion. Kimi Raikkonen – the only driver who can stop him winning the season title – trailed Alonso in the first session then beat him in the second. Alonso third in first session Alonso, who doesn't usually run his car early in practice, was third in the first session in 1 minute, 12.872 seconds. Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes was fifth, 0.193 seconds behind the championship leader. Then Raikkonen was sixth in the second practice, and Alonso 11th although the teams experiment with different settings. Raikkonen timed 1:13.172, and Alonso 1:13.545. "It was a bit confusing today really: We were quick in the first session then in the afternoon there were quite a lot of people in front of us," Alonso said. "The track conditions were not very good so we didn't make many changes to the setup. "We will wait for the grip levels to improve tomorrow which will definitely help the car balance. "Overall I still have lots of confidence for the rest of the weekend and I am sure we can be quick. Today's session was not that crucial for us, we just wanted to make sure we tested a few things. "Qualifying ahead will be important, but not as important as our race strategy - we know we only need a podium finish." All eyes on Alonso The Spaniard can clinch the title in Sunday's race with a third-place finish, even if Raikkonen were to win his fourth Grand Prix of the last five. Alonso has finished in the top three in 12 of 16 races this season, and the odds heavily favor him succeeding Michael Schumacher and becoming F1's youngest world champion at 24. Brazil's Emerson Fittipaldi was a year older when he won the first of his two world titles in 1972. Raikkonen was heartened by the performance of the McLarens on Friday. "An OK day where we worked through our program so a positive start to the weekend," the Finn said. "We still have some work to do to find the perfect setup but I'm confident that we will improve during tomorrow's two practice sessions." There are two more sessions on Saturday morning before the qualifying in the afternoon. Sunday's race on the 4.3-kilometer Interlagos circuit is 71 laps. McLaren test driver Alexander Wurz led both of Friday's sessions. He timed 1:11.701 in the first, while Takuma Sato, in his final season with BAR-Honda, was next in 1:12.738. In the afternoon, Wurz's fastest lap was 1:12.083, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya of McLaren. Last year Montoya won here in a Williams-BMW. Four victories for Schumacher Schumacher has four career victories at Interlagos. He was 12th in the first session as his Ferrari team continues to lag, and eighth in the second. "As usual here, the bumpy and slippery nature of the track makes the car quite uncomfortable to drive and it can feel unbalanced and twitchy," Schumacher said. "But I get the feeling we might be in better shape that we have been recently." Winner of the last five F1 championships and seven overall, Schumacher is third in the standings with 55 points - 56 points behind Alonso and long out of contention. He has dropped out of five races this season, including two of the past three, and has not scored a point since finishing second at the Hungarian GP in July. (AP)

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