Sato leads; Trulli in a Toyota; Bernoldi tests for BAR
Jacques Villeneuve was third fastest for Renault in the weeks final day of testing at Silverstone on Thursday, suggesting the former champion has lost none of his old pace, and increasing the likelihood that he will race for the team in the Chinese Grand Prix.
Only BARs Takuma Sato and McLarens Kimi Raikkonen went faster around the British Grand Prix circuit, but Villeneuve was less than a tenth down on both. He again focussed on optimising his driving position in the morning, but then began making his first set-up changes to the R24 in the afternoon.
"Today was another step forward as I continued learning about the car, said Villeneuve. This morning was quite difficult as I was still moving about in my seat, and therefore could not feel the car's handling as well as I needed to, but we solved the problem.
We made some initial set-up changes this afternoon and things looked positive, I was able to attack in the car and I am pleased with the time we set. The team has given me a great welcome this week, and I am very pleased with how the last two days have gone."
Sato was one of three BARs on track. The Japanese driver completed 82 laps, working on an aero programme in the morning before switching to tyres. Anthony Davidson put in 70 laps on his way to the seventh-fastest time, before handing over to former Arrows driver Enrique Bernoldi, who had his first test outing with the team. The Brazilian put in two runs, before a transmission glitch halted his progress.
"It was a good feeling to be back behind the wheel of a Formula One car this afternoon, said Bernoldi. Although we were limited to 11 laps because of a mechanical problem, I felt comfortable in the car and it will be a valuable experience for the Jerez test in a couple of weeks when I will have the chance to get into the actual programme more."
Ralf Schumacher completed his first week back at work for Williams by going fourth, immediately ahead of team mate Marc Gene. Over the three days, the pair completed 323 laps of the Northamptonshire circuit, a total of 1,660 kilometres, collating data in preparation for next weekend's inaugural Chinese Grand Prix.
"I'm very happy with the progress we made over the past three days, reported Schumacher. The only hindrance was losing some time yesterday due to a small technical problem, but the team quickly remedied it. I must say the car is much better now than when I last drove it, it is much easier to drive, especially with regards to downforce. I'm now really looking forward to the next three races and giving the team my very best."
Jarno Trulli had his first day at the wheel of a Toyota, the Italian going sixth as he comfortably out-paced team tester Ryan Briscoe. "The Toyota team has given me a splendid welcome and we've already started to work well together in our first day of testing, said Trulli. It's also nice to be working again with Mike Gascoyne, who is an excellent engineer.
It's still too early to judge the car. I've found some very good, positive aspects to the package, while there are parts which can still be improved. But I think everyone in the team knows the problems which require work. All the team's drivers will work well together with the rest of the team to work on improving the car's speed for the future. There's a good atmosphere and a nice bunch of people and it's good to get started early in preparation for 2005."
Unofficial Thursday times from Silverstone:
1. Takuma Sato, BAR (Michelin), 1:17.398
2. Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren (Michelin), 1:17.400
3. Jacques Villeneuve, Renault (Michelin), 1:17.428
4. Ralf Schumacher, Williams (Michelin), 1:17.725
5. Marc Gene, Williams (Michelin), 1:17.813
6. Jarno Trulli, Toyota (Michelin), 1:17.915
7. Anthony Davidson, BAR (Michelin), 1:17.962
8. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:18.401
9. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:19.141
4. Ryan Briscoe, Toyota (Michelin), 1:19.155