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McLaren looking good in France 14 Apr 2005

Pedro de la Rosa (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/20 in the pits.
Formula One World Championship, Rd3, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice, Bahrain International Circuit, Bahrain, 1 April 2005

McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa kept his name in the spotlight on Wednesday as six of the Formula One teams began their final San Marino Grand Prix preparations at the French circuit of Paul Ricard.

De la Rosa, whose spectacular stand-in drive for Juan Pablo Montoya in Bahrain won him plenty of praise, staked his claim for another race outing by comfortably setting the fastest time of the 11 drivers present.

"Today was a trouble free day and I completed over twice a grand prix distance which myself and the team were particularly pleased with," said the Spaniard, whose time of 1m 03.481s put him close to half a second clear of Giancarlo Fisichella’s Renault.

With the majority of teams focussing their efforts on tyre evaluation for Imola, there were plenty of long runs carried out. De la Rosa (163 laps) and BAR’s Enrique Bernoldi (182 laps) were the busiest men, with all but two drivers putting in at least 100 circuits of Paul Ricard.

At Renault, Fisichella and official test driver Franck Montagny finished the day less than a tenth of a second apart as they conducted set-up programmes as well as longer-term research and development work. Fisichella’s R25 ran without a hitch, but Montagny’s session was cut slightly short by an unspecified mechanical issue.

“Giancarlo was running at this circuit for the first time today, so we spent the morning improving the car set-up and giving him time to get use to the track,” explained Renault’s chief test engineer Christian Silk. “Visually, it looks very different from the driving seat, with the run-off areas and types of kerb, so it can take drivers a little longer to acclimatise than at a more standard venue.”

The Toyota’s of Olivier Panis and Ricardo Zonta were fourth and sixth fastest respectively, the Japanese team looking at ways of optimising the performance of the TF105 over kerbs, an area that has caused the team problems at Imola in the past.

Splitting the red and white cars was Bernoldi’s BAR 007, the Brazilian clocking up the highest number of laps ever achieved by a driver for the team in one day. Team mate Takuma Sato was seventh as he continued evaluation of the new aero package that propelled Jenson Button to a new unofficial lap record at Barcelona last week.

Alexander Wurz was eighth in the second McLaren MP4-20, the Austrian admitting he is still familiarising himself with the car, which he only drove for the first time in Bahrain. He was followed by the Williams of Nick Heidfeld and Antonio Pizzonia, the former carrying out set-up and tyre work with the FW27, the latter also looking at aerodynamics.

Completing the Wednesday line-up was the sole Bridgestone runner, Jordan’s Narain Karthikeyan. The Indian driver ran 40 laps in the EJ-15, finishing the session around 1.4 seconds down on Heidfeld.

Conditions at Paul Ricard were good, with clear, sunny skies and track temperatures of up to 32 degrees Celsius. Testing continues until Friday.

Unofficial Wednesday times from Paul Ricard:
1. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:03.481
2. Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault (Michelin), 1:03.843
3. Franck Montagny, Renault (Michelin), 1:03.901
4. Olivier Panis, Toyota (Michelin), 1:03.916
5. Enrique Bernoldi, BAR (Michelin), 1:03.958
6. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Michelin), 1:04.216
7. Takuma Sato, BAR (Michelin), 1:04.320
8. Alexander Wurz, McLaren (Michelin), 1:04.338
9. Antonio Pizzonia, Williams (Michelin), 1:04.442
10. Nick Heidfeld, Williams (Michelin), 1:06.086
11. Narain Karthikeyan, Jordan (Bridgestone), 1:07.413