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Pre-Bahrain testing round-up 29 Mar 2004

Jenson Button (GBR) BAR.
Australian Grand Prix, Rd 1, Albert Park, Australia, 5 March 2004

Last week’s Paul Ricard test came to a close on Friday with Jenson Button again top of the timesheets and an impressive performance from reigning IRL champion Scott Dixon, who was fourth fastest on his first Formula One outing with Williams.

New Zealander Dixon completed 59 laps of the French circuit as he acclimatised himself with the FW26 in preparation for a longer test with the team at Barcelona next month. He finished the day less than half a second off the pace of Williams regular Ralf Schumacher.

“Although it's a steep learning curve, I've had a really enjoyable day and, in general, I'm please with how it went,” said Dixon. “Unfortunately, I had a problem with the gearbox this morning so my time in the car was limited. When the team fixed the problem I was happy with how it went at the end. I would have liked to have had a few more runs in the car as I think I could have gone quicker but I'm now looking forward to the next test in Barcelona.”

As well as Schumacher and Dixon, test drivers Antonia Pizzonia and Marc Gene were also in action for Williams over the team’s three days at Paul Ricard, during which the BMW-powered squad completed just over 3,500 kilometres of development ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix of Bahrain and the coming European rounds.

“With four drivers sharing the test programme this week, we've managed to record a significant amount of mileage, data from which we will be able to use in preparation for the next few races,” said Tim Newton, Williams’ test team manager. “Aside from shaking down the new FW26 chassis, we've completed some useful tyre testing with Michelin.”

As on Thursday, it was BAR driver Button who set the pace on the final day to finish the team’s three-day session on a high. Using both the current 006 and their hybrid ’04 Concept Car they totalled 2,350 kilometres, with Takuma Sato and Anthony Davidson also on track. The test was focused on aerodynamic development, suspension and brake work, and intensive tyre testing concentrating on compound selection for the start of the European season.

"It has been a really good test for me,” reported Button. “We have had no reliability problems and have again been on the pace. We have done a lot of good work with the tyres choice for Imola, and also some aero revisions and engine improvements for Bahrain. It's good to see we are still consistent and I'm looking forward to getting to Bahrain and getting back on the race track."

Having run alongside fellow Toyota tester Ryan Briscoe earlier in the week, Ricardo Zonta completed the Japanese squad’s four-day programme. "I think it has been a good test this week,” said the Brazilian, who was at the wheel of the latest TF104. “We have again managed to get a lot of laps under our belt and completed over 1500 kilometres in just four days.

"We have worked intensively on testing Michelin tyre casings and compounds in preparation for Imola, and today we focussed on various set-ups, playing with the suspension. Unfortunately we had some gearbox control problems today, which limited us to 55 laps. Although I have run the TF104 in two race weekends this season, this week was my first actual test session with the new car and things have run very smoothly. Now, I am looking forward to going to Bahrain for what promises to be an exciting grand prix in the Middle East next week. The track looks very technical and I can't wait to drive it in Friday's free practice sessions."

Briscoe, who totalled 145 laps in the TF103B, added: “We were running a special programme on the first two days this week to acquire some data from new sensors we were running in the car. The test was not at all performance-related, which is quite clear from the limited number of laps I ran on Tuesday and Wednesday. On my final day on Thursday, I did a more standard test, working on some launches and brake material comparison and completing a very respectable number of laps."

Franck Montagny rounded off Renault’s week at Paul Ricard with a full day of tyres testing, completing 145 laps in the final testing appearance for the R23. Initially, Montagny conducted front construction tests, reviewing data from the Malaysian Grand Prix ahead of the forthcoming race in Bahrain. He continued with construction work, testing new products for Imola, and also began looking at the compound choices for the San Marino Grand Prix venue.

"A very pleasing conclusion to the week," said Renault’s Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds. "The story of the day was all about tyres, and we were very pleased with the progress Franck made. The new constructions we tested were a step in the right direction for us, and the compounds showed improvements in lap time and consistency."

Ferrari chose to run private tests last week, with a three-day programme at Mugello and two days at Fiorano. Luca Badoer and Michael Schumacher shared the driving duties.

Unofficial Friday times from Paul Ricard:
1. Jenson Button, BAR (Michelin), 1:10.860
2. Ralf Schumacher, Williams (Michelin), 1:11.330
3. Anthony Davidson, BAR (Michelin), 1:11.622
4. Scott Dixon, Williams (Michelin), 1:11.753
5. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:12.038
6. Alexander Wurz, McLaren (Michelin), 1:12.256
7. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Michelin), 1:12.427
8. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:12.732