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Paul Ricard day one - a close run thing 06 Apr 2006

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault Third Driver.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 3, Australian Grand Prix, Preparations, Albert Park, Melbourne, Australia, 30 March 2006

Renault’s Heikki Kovalainen topped a tightly-contested test session at Paul Ricard on Wednesday, with barely a tenth of a second splitting the first three teams. McLaren’s Pedro de la Rosa and BMW Sauber’s Robert Kubica were the Finn’s closest rivals.

Kovalainen focused mainly on the development of a new engine evolution, as well as a tyre programme with Michelin to prepare for the first European race at Imola in two weeks’ time. He alternated between two chassis, the second of which will be taken over by Giancarlo Fisichella from Thursday, completing 137 laps of the French circuit.

"We've had quite a busy day with two cars to run with just one driver!” said Christian Silk, Renault’s chief test engineer. “We had a few small problems today but they did not delay our programme. We worked on interesting directions for the first European races. We completed an important programme of tyre testing today and Heikki seemed quite happy with it."

McLaren began their session with de la Rosa concentrating on front suspension and damper work in the MP4-20, while Gary Paffett worked on tyre selection for Imola in the V10 MP4-20. They racked up 104 and 84 laps respectively, with the bulk of de la Rosa’s running taking place in the afternoon once a fuel pressure problem had been fixed.

Kubica and Jacques Villenuve were in action for BMW Sauber. In the morning, the team’s engineers made special data measurements on Villeneuve’s car, while Kubica worked on set-up and fine tuning the F1.06’s electronic systems. In the afternoon, both drivers completed a tyre test for Michelin, Kubica concentrating on Imola selection, Villeneuve on future developments. The Pole totalled 150 laps, the Canadian 93.

The Toyotas of Ricardo Zonta and Olivier Panis were fourth and sixth in the times after 142 and 109 laps respectively. "I am really happy with today's results,” said Zonta. “We worked on aerodynamic scans and tyre tests. From this, we learned a lot and showed that we had a good lap time, which is the best we have done at Paul Ricard. Therefore, in my opinion this was the best day of testing this year because we found some really positive results.”

"Today was a good day, putting in a good amount of laps,” added Panis. “Today I was driving with the old aerodynamic package testing various items, like balance set-ups and traction control scans. Tomorrow, the car will be set up with the new chassis and therefore we have a bigger tyre test programme planned.”

Completing the line-up was Robert Doornbos, who ran close to 60 laps for Red Bull to finish just over half a second down on seventh-placed man Villeneuve.

Testing continues at Paul Ricard until Friday.

Unofficial Wednesday times from Paul Ricard:
1. Heikki Kovalainen, Renault (Michelin), 1:04.927
2. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren (Michelin), 1:05.028
3. Robert Kubica, BMW Sauber (Michelin), 1:05.070
4. Ricardo Zonta, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:05.291
5. Gary Paffett, McLaren (Michelin), 1:05.534
6. Olivier Panis, Toyota (Bridgestone), 1:05.754
7. Jacques Villeneuve, BMW Sauber (Michelin), 1:05.810
8. Robert Doornbos, Red Bull (Michelin), 1:06.420