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Barcelona day three - Honda versus Renault 24 Feb 2006

Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing RA106. Formula 1 Testing, Barcelona, Spain, 21-24 February 2006. World © Capilitan/Sutton

Less than a tenth of a second separated the top three runners in Barcelona on Thursday, as Honda and Renault battled for supremacy in the week’s third day of testing at the Circuit de Catalunya. Jenson Button emerged on top, edging out Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso, with Rubens Barrichello fourth.

With the best track conditions of the week so far, all of the teams present were able to get in significant running. Button completed 116 laps for Honda, team mate Barrichello 118, the pair continuing tyre and aero work with the RA106 car.

The Renault drivers were virtually inseparable in the times as their R26s ran without incident, taking them to a total of almost 240 laps. Alonso’s schedule included a full race distance in the morning, while Fisichella carried out a major set-up programme.

McLaren brought their week in Barcelona to a close with Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen fifth and sixth fastest respectively. Montoya was the busiest man on track, completing a mammoth 131 laps.

"We've done a lot of good work this week, there have been a few problems with the wet weather and a couple of small glitches with the car, but generally it has been a productive week,” said the Colombian. “It has also been quite cold here in Barcelona, which means that you aren't getting the full performance, and also everyone is testing different things. So it is difficult to compare the performances of the teams testing here during the week."

Nico Rosberg was an encouraging seventh for Williams, with team mate Mark Webber in 11th. “Both drivers concentrated on long runs, working on set-up, brake and tyre development,” explained technical director Sam Michael. “Nico will be joined by Alex (Wurz) for tomorrow’s final day of the four day test.”

Toyota’s second day of the week in Spain saw them continue their search for the perfect tyre choice for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Both Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli clocked up over 100 laps as they took eighth and tenth places respectively.

"I spent the day working on tyre set-ups to prepare for the upcoming first race,” said Schumacher. “Although I had a small spin this morning, this test is giving me the chance to come to grips with the new car, to understand it better and to adapt my driving style. So far I am pleased with the new aerodynamics on the car and eager to see how things develop before the first race."

Splitting the two Toyotas was the Red Bull of David Coulthard. The Scot concentrated on evaluating aero parts, plus some set-up and suspension work, while team mate Christian Klien looked at aerodynamics and tyres.

"Christian managed to complete some longer runs, which is what we wanted, as he was using the race spec engine - gearbox package," said Red Bull’s chief test engineer Ian Morgan. "Despite a few minor problems, he got through most of his programme, as did David. Tomorrow is our final day here and the plan with both drivers is to simulate a race weekend, with qualifying laps and race length runs."

Midland described their final day in Barcelona as ‘satisfying’ after Christijan Albers completed 79 laps in the Toyota-powered M16 to finish 14th. Albers carried out further tyre testing and a race simulation, although this was cut short due to a minor equipment malfunction in the garage.

"The weather was better than expected, so at least we could start early in the morning with some meaningful runs, instead of waiting for it to warm up,” said Albers. “Unfortunately, we encountered some problems with the fuel rig, which cost us some track time. We had originally planned to cover a race distance in the afternoon but by the time we solved the problem, there just wasn't enough time left. So we finished up the day with a medium-length stint, which went well.”

Rounding out the Thursday timesheets was Takuma Sato, back in the cockpit for Super Aguri as the new team completed their first Formula One test. The Japanese driver racked up another 58 laps in the Honda-powered SA05, and came away satisfied with progress.

“I am very proud of everybody in the team who has made this test happen with such a tough schedule,” said Sato. “Obviously this test has been an important opportunity for us to run our systems programme before we go to Bahrain. I am very pleased that we have successfully completed the three-day test and that we were able to evaluate the small amount of data that we have. In terms of performance we need to work hard, but at least this has been an encouraging start and I am so pleased that everyone has done such a great job.”

Testing continues in Barcelona on Friday.

Unofficial Thursday times from Barcelona:
1. Jenson Button, Honda (Michelin), 1:13.920
2. Giancarlo Fisichella, Renault (Michelin), 1:13.969
3. Fernando Alonso, Renault (Michelin), 1:13.977
4. Rubens Barrichello, Honda (Michelin), 1:14.265
5. Juan Pablo Montoya, McLaren (Michelin), 1:14.587
6. Kimi Raikkonen, McLaren (Michelin), 1:15.475
7. Nico Rosberg, Williams (Bridgestone), 1:15.774
8. Ralf Schumacher, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:15.973
9. David Coulthard, Red Bull (Michelin), 1:16.034
10. Jarno Trulli, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:16.057
11. Mark Webber, Williams (Bridgestone), 1:16.128
12. Christian Klien, Red Bull (Michelin), 1:16.923
13. Christijan Albers, MF1 (Bridgestone), 1:17.142
14. Takuma Sato, Super Aguri (Bridgestone), 1:19.774