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Barcelona Day Four - Button to the fore 23 Jan 2004

Jenson Button (GBR) BAR.
Formula One World Championship, Rd1, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 6 March 2003

BAR's Jenson Button set a new unofficial lap record at Barcelona on Thursday, bringing Williams' domination of this week's test session to an end. Running on a light fuel load in the team's '04 concept car, Button became the first man to dip below 1m 15s around the newly-revised Circuit de Catalunya.

BAR's programme focussed on tyre and reliability testing, with Button doing 86 laps and team mate Takuma Sato, 10th fastest, 90. The Honda-powered team will launch their 2004 race car, the 006, on Sunday February 1.

Button's closest challenger in the times, almost a second slower, was world champion Michael Schumacher, in his first test session of 2004 for Ferrari. Schumacher put in 95 laps on his first day back in the cockpit of the F2003-GA, with test driver Luca Badoer completing another 87 on his way to the fifth-fastest time of the day.

Renault's Fernando Alonso was third quickest for the third day in succession. However, this time he was in the new R24, which completed its first full grand prix distance, running a simulated two-stop race. "To achieve this so early with a brand new car is very encouraging, and demonstrates our commitment to ensuring reliability is at the top of our agenda this year, in order to exploit the potential we believe this package possesses," commented Executive Director of Engineering, Pat Symonds. Backing up Alonso's work was Renault test driver Franck Montagny, who completed over 130 laps in last year's R23. On the Frenchman's agenda was simulation work, a tyre endurance programme and practice starts. He ended 12th in the times.

Williams had three drivers in action, the quickest of which was again Ralf Schumacher, in fourth. The German worked on set-up and tyres in the FW26, while team mate Juan Pablo Montoya, sixth, performed a race simulation in the new car. Test driver Marc Gene worked on practice starts in the FW25 in light of the 2004 ban on launch control.

Giancarlo Fisichella went ninth quickest as took over Sauber's programme from Felipe Massa, and despite a minor technical glitch he was happy with the team's progress: "In the morning it didn't work that well for me as the car set-up didn't fit to my driving style and we had to change quite a few things. Then, in the afternoon, we made a big step forward and the C23 was getting better and better. Considering the fairly long break which we were forced to take due to the fuel supply problem I'm quite happy that I could still run 66 laps."

Nick Heidfeld was back in the cockpit for Jordan, who are still to confirm either of their 2004 race seats. For the first time this week the team's day was drama free. German Timo Glock safely completed the morning's programme, before handing over to compatriot Heidfeld in the afternoon.

"Timo started the day with very cold track temperatures, at four degrees Celsius," explained James Robinson, Jordan's Head of Race and Test Engineering. "He started out on old tyres to continue familiarising himself with the car and the track and then we worked on a small programme of test items. He was on control tyres all morning while other cars were on test tyres and still managed to get his lap time down to 1:18.21 on fresh tyres just before his schedule finished.

"At lunch time we converted the car for Nick to take over and get familiar with the car as it is six weeks since he drove our car and longer since he was at Barcelona. He spent the afternoon working on a Bridgestone tyre construction programme and set a fastest lap time of 1:17.51. It was an encouraging afternoon working with Bridgestone and Nick. He did a good job and we're looking forward to getting through further work on the tyre front tomorrow."

Jaguar wrapped up their three-day programme, with Christian Klien 14th in the sole R5 and Mark Webber 11th in the R4. Toyota completed Thursday's line-up, with Olivier Panis and Ryan Briscoe eighth and 15th respectively.

Conditions at Barcelona were again fine, with sunny skies and track temperatures of up to 23 degrees. Testing concludes at the circuit on Friday.

Unofficial Thursday times from Barcelona:
1. Jenson Button, BAR (Michelin), 1:14.588
2. Michael Schumacher, Ferrari (Bridgestone), 1:15.408
3. Fernando Alonso, Renault (Michelin), 1:15.525
4. Ralf Schumacher, Williams (Michelin), 1:15.749
5. Luca Badoer, Ferrari (Bridgestone), 1:15.767
6. Marc Gene, Williams (Michelin), 1:15.827
7. Juan Pablo Montoya, Williams (Michelin), 1:16.250
8. Olivier Panis, Toyota (Michelin), 1:16.507
9. Giancarlo Fisichella, Sauber (Bridgestone), 1:16.529
10. Takuma Sato, BAR (Michelin), 1:16.559
11. Mark Webber, Jaguar (Michelin), 1:17.173
12. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:17.444
13. Nick Heidfeld, Jordan (Bridgestone), 1:17.510
14. Christian Klien, Jaguar (Michelin), 1:18.029
15. Ryan Briscoe, Toyota (Michelin), 1:18.106
16. Timo Glock, Jordan (Bridgestone), 1:18.210