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Sauber's Vettel upstages Schumacher in free practice

BMW Sauber's teenage test driver Sebastian Vettel upstaged Michael Schumacher yesterday in free practice for what could be the Ferrari great's final Italian Grand Prix.

The 19-year-old German, an emerging talent just as seven times champion Schumacher threatens to depart the scene, lapped the fastest and oldest circuit on the calendar in one minute 22.631 seconds.

Schumacher, whose fans fear that he will announce his retirement at the end of the season after Ferrari's home grand prix tomorrow, was second quickest on the timesheets but the fastest race driver.

In a show of Ferrari strength, Brazilian team-mate Felipe Massa - winner of the last race in Turkey - was third while Schumacher's title rival Fernando Alonso was eighth in his Renault.

World champion Alonso leads Schumacher by 12 points in the championship with four races, including the one of tomorrow, remaining.

Schumacher was the German the crowd had turned up to see but for the second race weekend in a row, Vettel was the fastest on the circuit.

At the previous race in Turkey, where Vettel became the youngest driver to take part in a grand prix weekend, he had also been quickest.

The test driver will not race tomorrow, however, a day that promises to be all Schumacher's in what could be his home farewell to the Ferrari faithful after a decade with the Italian glamour team.

"Schumy and Ferrari=Eternal Love," declared one giant red banner hanging over the grandstand rails.

"Michael, I beg you not to leave Ferrari," said another.

Neither Schumacher nor Alonso took to the track in a morning session stopped for 10 minutes when Honda test driver Anthony Davidson suffered an engine failure.

Davidson suffered an even more dramatic failure in the afternoon, pulling over with the rear of his car in flames as Honda's efforts to introduce a new specification engine backfired.

Neither Jenson Button nor team-mate Rubens Barrichello left the pit lane, allowing them to change back to the former specification engines without penalty.

F1 statistics

Ferrari's Felipe Massa, triumphant in Turkey, is the 87th driver to win a grand prix. He is also the sixth Brazilian winner after Rubens Barrichello, Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet, Emerson Fittipaldi and Carlos Pace. Massa is Ferrari's 35th winner since 1950.

With Honda's Jenson Button winning the previous race in Hungary, F1 had successive new winners for the first time since 2003 when Kimi Raikkonen won in Malaysia and Giancarlo Fisichella in Brazil.

Ferrari have won 189 races, McLaren 148, Williams 113 and Renault 32.

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