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Ralf fastest on test return at Silverstone 15 Sep 2004

Ralf Schumacher (GER) Williams.
Formula One World Championship, Rd9, United States Grand Prix, Practice Day, Indianapolis, USA, 18 June 2004

Impressive comeback for German after six races out

Almost three months away from the cockpit looked to have had no ill effect on Ralf Schumacher as the Williams driver set the pace in Tuesday’s test session at Silverstone.

Schumacher, who had not driven a Formula One car since he broke two vertebrae at the United States Grand Prix in June, was over a second faster than his nearest rival, McLaren’s Alexander Wurz.

“I couldn’t be happier with today’s test,” Schumacher told Williams’ official website. “The most important thing was that I had no back pain at all, which helped me feel confident and push hard.”

Schumacher was joined at Williams by test driver Marc Gene, both men working on set-up and tyres as part of the team’s preparations for the inaugural Chinese Grand Prix on September 26. The day started wet, Gene setting his best time in damp conditions, though the circuit did dry briefly in the afternoon between showers.

As well as Wurz, Pedro de la Rosa was in action for McLaren, the Spaniard going sixth fastest after more than 50 laps of the British Grand Prix circuit. BAR also had two cars on track, with third driver Anthony Davidson outpacing Jenson Button as the pair went third and fifth respectively. The team carried out some aero work, but, like everyone else, were forced to adapt their programme to the wet weather.

Fernando Alonso was the quicker of the two Renault drivers present, going seventh to Franck Montagny’s tenth, while Ricardo Zonta set the leading Toyota time in fourth. Team mate Olivier Panis was eighth, ahead of the sole Jordan of German Timo Glock, who carried out the team’s final test programme of the 2004 season.

Testing continues at Silverstone until Thursday.

Unofficial Tuesday times from Silverstone:
1. Ralf Schumacher, Williams (Michelin), 1:18.014
2. Alexander Wurz, McLaren (Michelin), 1:19.083
3. Anthony Davidson, BAR (Michelin), 1:19.367
4. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Michelin), 1:19.521
5. Jenson Button, BAR (Michelin), 1:19.570
6. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:19.560
7. Fernando Alonso, Renault (Michelin), 1:19.739
8. Olivier Panis, Toyota (Michelin), 1:20.137
9. Timo Glock, Jordan (Bridgestone), 1:22.250
10. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:30.473
11. Marc Gene, Williams (Michelin), 1:32.048