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Jerez day two - McLaren close the gap 09 Feb 2006

Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren Mercedes MP4/21. Formula 1 Testing, Jerez, Spain, 7-10 February 2006. World ©  Patching/Sutton

Fernando Alonso was again the man to beat in testing on Wednesday as Renault began a four-day test at Jerez in Spain. Honda proved to be the world champions’ closest rivals, with Jenson Button only a tenth of a second behind, while McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya was an encouraging third with an improved Mercedes V8.

It was a day of slightly mixed fortunes for Renault. While Alonso ran strongly, concentrating primarily on tyre development and set-up work with the R26, test driver Heikki Kovalainen had to halt his programme after 77 laps on safety grounds due to a rear-wing problem. The parts in question have been sent back to the factory for analysis. The issue means Renault will only run one chassis on Thursday.

The Hondas of Button, second, and Rubens Barrichello, fifth, were split by the McLarens of Montoya and Pedro de la Rosa. Montoya, in the new MP4-21, was little over a tenth slower than Button as he concentrated on set-up and component evaluation. The Colombian didn’t start his session until the afternoon as he waited for Mercedes’ latest-spec V8 to be fitted. De la Rosa focused on Michelin tyre development in the team’s interim V10 machine.

Nick Heidfeld outpaced team mate Jacques Villeneuve as the BMW Sauber pair went sixth and seventh fastest. The half second between them was understandable given that Villeneuve was tasked with shaking down the team’s second new F1.06 chassis.

Mark Webber was the leading Williams in eighth, four places up on team mate Nico Rosberg, both men in the new Cosworth-powered FW28.

“Today Mark and Nico were driving the FW28s. Mark spent the morning working on a tyre construction test for Bridgestone which confirmed our direction for short term development,” explained technical director Sam Michael. “He then switched to pitstop practices with the race team in the afternoon. Nico did the opposite, working on pitstops in the morning and long runs on tyre compounds for Bridgestone later in the day.”

Toyota finished at the lower end of the order, with Jarno Trulli and Ralf Schumacher tenth and 11th respectively, the pair completing well over 180 laps between them in the TF106.

"The main target of the test was to put mileage on the engines and to continue with our tyre programme,” reported Toyota’s test team manager, Gerd Pfeiffer. “With Ralf, we were attempting to see how the tyres work and to try different set-ups. With Jarno, we did some endurance running to see the mechanical reliability of our cars as well as some set-up testing. Everything we are working on is a learning process; learning to adjust to the tyres, but we are looking forward to seeing how the aerodynamic package will make an impact next week on our progress."

Completing the Wednesday timesheets was Tiago Monteiro, who carried out control systems testing in MF1’s interim EJ15B machine, ahead of his first outing in the new M16 on Thursday.

“Just a short run today, trying some electronic set-ups,” said Monteiro. “It was very interesting to really make the car perform at extremes and we learnt some really positive information. I'm really excited about getting in the M16 tomorrow afternoon, I can't wait.”

Testing continues at Jerez on Thursday.

Unofficial Wednesday times from Jerez:
1. Fernando Alonso, Renault (Michelin), 1:16.960
2. Jenson Button, Honda (Michelin), 1:17.106
3. Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren (Michelin), 1:17.272
4. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:17.421
5. Rubens Barrichello, Honda (Michelin), 1:17.503
6. Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber (Michelin), 1:17.584
7. Jacques Villeneuve, BMW Sauber (Michelin), 1:18.055
8. Mark Webber, Williams (Bridgestone), 1:18.264
9. Heikki Kovalainen, Renault (Michelin), 1:18.922
10. Jarno Trulli, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:19.430
11. Ralf Schumacher, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:19.681
12. Nico Rosberg, Williams (Bridgestone), 1:19.971
13. Tiago Monteiro, MF1 (Bridgestone), 1:21.880