Michael Schumacher, who set the pace in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday, aims to win his sixth grand prix in a row and notch up as many Monte Carlo victories this weekend.

Michael Schumacher, who set the pace in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix on Thursday, aims to win his sixth grand prix in a row and notch up as many Monte Carlo victories this weekend.

If the German wins on Sunday, he will smash the records of Nigel Mansell (five grand prix wins in a row during the first half of the 1992 world championship season) and the late three-time F1 champion Ayrton Senna (five grand prix wins on the streets of the Principality). He took his first steps to achieving that goal by topping the timesheets of both free practice sessions.

The Ferrari driver's best lap was 1m14,741, followed by BAR test driver Anthony Davidson and Schumacher's team-mate Rubens Barrichello in third. The Scuderia and Bridgestone are hoping that a new super-soft tyre construction being made available to the Italian team this weekend will cure the team's dip in performance during the first lap of a race.

Schumacher struggled during the first lap of the last two races in Imola and Barcelona and Ferrari's Michelin-shod rivals, BAR-Honda, Renault and Williams-BMW have all targeted Monaco as a potential weak track for the team. Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn said the result of this weekend's race would "depend totally on the tyres. We are much better prepared than we were last year and, even though we have had to sacrifice a little consistency, we are much happier with our one-lap pace."

Ferrari will only have to contend with one of the Williams-BMW cars at the front end of the grid. Ralf Schumacher suffered an engine failure yesterday and will lose 10 places on the starting grid for Sunday's race.

Davidson initially set the first fastest time, 1m17,981, and Ralf was just under a tenth of second behind. Jenson Button's BAR slotted into third, followed by the two Toyota race drivers.

Michael was next to the top, clocking 1m16,979 but was immediately displaced by Davidson's 1m16,861. Barrichello took fourth fastest and both Saubers were in the top ten in the early stages. Kimi Raikkonen put his McLaren seventh on his first flying lap and Renault's Fernando Alonso posted fourth on his. Raikkonen's team-mate David Coulthard took the seventh slot and Kimi improved to third.

Raikkonen then vaulted to the top of the times with a lap of 1m16,635, two tenths up on Davidson. The second Renault of Jarno Trulli moved up to fifth fastest and then claimed the top slot with a lap of 1m16,494. Giancarlo Fisichella put the Sauber third and his team-mate Felipe Massa was 11th. Meanwhile, Schumacher went second fastest on his next lap and Barrichello went one better for the top, 1m16,395 - just 0,099 seconds up on Trulli.

The Toyotas slipped further down the field with the Jordans and Jaguar's Christian Klien. Mark Webber missed the second session after his Jaguar suffered an engine fire in the first session. It was caused by an oil leak and the team is hoping a change of engine won't be necessary.

Raikkonen returned to the top with a 1m16,165, but was demoted by Alonso soon thereafter. Klien made it an unfortunate hat trick for Jaguar, hitting the barrier in the first sector after an electrical problem caused the engine and hydraulics to shut down. Button was next to take up the challenge, setting 1m15,520 for the top spot and Trulli moved into third behind Alonso.

Juan-Pablo Montoya moved up to fourth and Schumacher, who had been shuffled down the order, improved to fifth, with Barrichello just behind. Davidson and Takuma Sato were eighth and ninth and Fisichella rounded off the top ten. Coulthard then took sixth, bumping the others from Barrichello down a place each.

Davidson wound up for a fast lap and displaced team-mate Button with a 1m15,314 and BAR test driver Ricardo Zonta shot up to third - the Toyota race drivers were outside the top ten, as was Ralf's Williams. Michael picked up the pace, posting 1m14,741 at the top of the times, half a second up on Davidson, and Barrichello improved to third. Trulli took fourth and Sato sixth, while Davidson bettered his time but was four tenths off Schumacher. Raikkonen clocked fifth fastest in the closing stages.

The top nine runners lapped within a second of each other and although the Renaults and BARs were on the pace, Williams-BMW fell off the pace by the end of the session. McLaren struggled with what team boss Ron Dennis said was a lack of steering travel.

"As a result of the tight corners Monte Carlo is a circuit that requires a car to have greater steering travel," said Dennis. "Unfortunately the modification which we introduced to achieve this caused some seal failures which certainly interrupted both drivers' second practice sessions.

"Alternative components will be manufactured by Saturday which should resolve this small problem. Apart from this, both cars have performed well but of course David was not able to run in the latter and grippier part of the second session," he added.

Meanwhile, Jaguar was hoping to sparkle in Sunday's race FP after embedding diamonds worth millions in its F1 cars as a promotional stunt. Each of the Jaguar's four cars has a cut gem, measuring about a centimetre across, positioned in the nose cone as part of a one-off sponsorship deal for the glamour highlight of the season.

Team sources said the gems were insured for more than R12 million - there was also "a bag of spares" in case one was lost in a crash.

Jaguar also expects to outdo its rivals in the glamour stakes after tying up another deal with Hollywood producer Jerry Weintraub to promote his ", starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, and Brad Pitt.

The team on Friday carried branding for the film on the cars (decked out in a unique red and green livery), the mechanics' overalls and on their shirts.

Original article from Car