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Paul Ricard day three - no change at the top 24 Mar 2006

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 2, Malaysian Grand Prix, Preparations, Sepang, Malaysia, 16 March 2006

Renault’s Heikki Kovalainen again topped the times at Paul Ricard on Thursday. Kovalainen completed a mammoth 213 laps of the French circuit on his way to a best time of 1m 04.400s. In dry but windy conditions, the Finn focussed on Michelin tyre work for the forthcoming European races, carrying out medium distance runs in the R26.

"We had a very productive day once again, without any problems at all,” reported Christian Silk, Renault’s chief test engineer. “Heikki ran a lot of laps, and looked quick. Our work centred around developing yesterday's tyre programme, and we made more good progress. Heikki was very pleased with the car, and the entire team worked very hard to make sure we got the most out of every run. We know these are crucial test sessions, with respect to the coming races."

BMW Sauber put in an impressive showing, with Nick Heidfeld going second fastest after 96 laps. In the morning Heidfeld worked on set-up and fine tuning the F1.06’s electronic systems. After an interruption caused by a mechanical problem, he then moved on to the team’s tyre test programme in preparation for the San Marino Grand Prix.

Pedro de la Rosa was third quickest for McLaren, the Spaniard’s programme including a series of one-lap runs to simulate qualifying on various Michelin tyre compounds. He completed 145 laps in the MP4-21, while team mate Gary Paffett was fourth in the team’s V10 MP4-20 machine after 153 laps.

At Toyota, Jarno Trulli took over from team mate Ralf Schumacher as the team continued Bridgestone tyre work. Trulli narrowly outpaced official tester Ricardo Zonta, who was celebrating his 30th birthday, the pair running 72 and 121 laps respectively.

"We worked on more tyre and set-up testing to evaluate tyres for Australia because so far we have just found out that we have to go softer on our car in order to make the car work,” explained Trulli. “At any rate we are looking at many options to understand how the car is behaving. One step is to work with a softer compound, which we were using this afternoon. Overall, we are mainly pushing hard this week to be competitive at the next races and I am sure we will have some interesting data to take with us to Australia."

Testing concludes at Paul Ricard on Friday.

Unofficial Thursday times from Paul Ricard:
1. Heikki Kovalainen, Renault (Michelin), 1:04.400
2. Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber (Michelin), 1:04.905
3. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:05.094
4. Gary Paffett, McLaren (Michelin), 1:05.518
5. Jarno Trulli, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:05.702
6. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:05.738