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Paul Ricard Day 3 - Button leads 26 Mar 2004

Jenson Button (GBR) BAR Honda 006.
Malaysian Grand Prix, Rd 2, Sepang, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 19 March 2004

BAR continue strong testing form in France

Fresh from his maiden podium in Malaysia, BAR’s Jenson Button topped the times on his return to testing at Paul Ricard on Thursday. The British driver outgunned Wednesday pacesetter, Williams’ Antonio Pizzonia.

Button, at the wheel of the latest Honda-powered 006 machine, put in 118 laps of the French circuit in cool, but fine conditions, with a best of 1m 11.04s. Team mate Takuma Sato took over the hybrid ’04 Concept Car from test driver Anthony Davidson and went fourth fastest after 80 laps.

At Williams, Pizzonia racked up a mammoth 129 laps following a number of long runs focussing on tyre evaluation. The Brazilian ended the day less than two tenths down on Button. He was joined by Ralf Schumacher, who also clocked up over 100 laps to go fifth fastest, the German working on set-up and traction control.

McLaren again had Pedro de la Rosa and Alexander Wurz in action, going third and sixth respectively, the pair completing 61 laps between them. Meanwhile at Toyota, Ricardo Zonta and Ryan Briscoe filled the last two slots on the timesheets, as they continued development of the Japanese squad’s TF104.

The 2003 Renault R23 came another day closer to its testing swansong as Franck Montagny continued evaluation of a range of different tyres for the beginning of the European season: the Frenchman tested constructions during the morning and compounds in the afternoon. He finished seventh in the times.

"Our second day at Paul Ricard proved much more productive," explained Renault’s Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds. "Conditions were much more favourable today, and we made good progress with our programme. Tomorrow, we will concentrate on longer runs. We also tested some tyre solutions for Bahrain today."

Testing continues at Paul Ricard on Friday, when the spotlight will be on reigning IRL champion Scott Dixon who gets his first of two scheduled tests with Williams.

Elsewhere on Thursday, Ferrari had two test teams in action. Michael Schumacher completed the team’s three-day Mugello programme of F2004 component development. The German ran 65 laps, with a best of 1m 20.106s. Meanwhile, Luca Badoer began a tyre testing programme at Fiorano in an F2003-GA. The Italian did 132 laps with a best of 57.398s. Schumacher takes over at Fiorano in an F2004 on Friday.

Unofficial Thursday times from Paul Ricard:
1. Jenson Button, BAR (Michelin), 1:11.045
2. Antonio Pizzonia, Williams (Michelin), 1:11.210
3. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:11.390
4. Takuma Sato, BAR (Michelin), 1:11.427
5. Ralf Schumacher, Williams (Michelin), 1:11.520
6. Alexander Wurz, McLaren (Michelin), 1:12.357
7. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:12.468
8. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Michelin), 1:12.584
9. Ryan Briscoe, Toyota (Michelin), 1:12.640