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Sepang day four - Kovalainen ends on a high 30 Mar 2007

Heikki Kovalainen (FIN) Renault R27. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 30 March 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 30 March 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Scuderia Toro Rosso radiator cooling devices. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 30 March 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Anthony Davidson (GBR) Super Aguri F1 SA07. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 30 March 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton Jenson Button (GBR) Honda Racing F1 Team. Formula One Testing, Day Four, Sepang, Malaysia, Friday, 30 March 2007. World © Hartley/Sutton

Renault’s Heikki Kovalainen received a confidence boost ahead of next weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix as he topped the final day of testing at Sepang on Friday. Kovalainen, bottom of the times just 24 hours earlier, pipped Ferrari’s Felipe Massa by less than a tenth of a second.

The Finn and the Brazilian proved the class of the field, finishing a second ahead of Anthony Davidson, who scored a strong third place for Super Aguri. Nico Rosberg was fourth fastest for Williams, followed by the Toyota of Franck Montagny and the BMW Sauber of Nick Heidfeld.

Following Thursday’s rain at Sepang, all of the 10 teams present opted to stay on for the extra day, with Honda, Toro Rosso and McLaren splitting their running between two drivers. There were further showers in the early afternoon, but these did not prove too disruptive.

Kovalainen’s best time came as part of a Renault qualifying simulation in the morning. In the afternoon he was meant to focus on long runs in the R27, but the team’s programme was interrupted by a mechanical failure. They were pleased with progress, nonetheless.

“We made a number of changes overnight, and they seemed to work well out on track today,” reported Christian Silk, Renault’s chief test engineer. “There is still a lot of progress to be made, but we are moving in the right direction, and I think we got the maximum from our week’s running in the circumstances. Heikki seems comfortable at this track, he learned it quickly and is in good shape going into next week’s Grand Prix.”

At Ferrari, Massa continued with preparation work for next week’s race, trying out various different settings on the F2007, as well as evaluating some new components and electrics. He racked up 73 laps in another trouble-free day for the Italian team.

Super Aguri wrapped up their first full test with the new SA07, following its impressive late debut in Australia. After struggling to get to grips with the car earlier in the week at Sepang, Davidson finished the test on a more positive note.

“Today we completed half a day’s running with the tyres and engine mileage we had left,” he explained. “I felt more confident in the car and the lap times were quite good, but even so we have a lot of work to do on the long-run balance next Friday. The test here has been very valuable for me as it is a circuit that I did not know well and I have learnt a lot from our time here.”

Heidfeld had a disjointed day in the BMW Sauber. Following his engine fire on Thursday, another engine-related problem cost him two hours of track time in the morning. Once back on circuit, he caught up on the team’s to-do list, concentrating on race set-up with the F1.07.

Lewis Hamilton was the leading McLaren driver in eighth place, just behind Honda’s Jenson Button. An oil-pipe problem on the MP4-22 just as Hamilton was about to hand the car over to team tester Pedro de Rosa meant the Spaniard had relatively little running on his way to 11th in the times. Nevertheless, the team completed more than 1,400 km over the course of the week.

It was Hamilton’s first visit to Sepang and he came away enthusiastic about the circuit: “It was tougher than I expected! The heat in the cockpit is incredible, but I am making sure I keep hydrated when I am at the track and am continuing to train in the heat. These three days have been really useful as part of my acclimatisation process for the race. The circuit itself is great, it is very wide and flowing, and I am looking forward to racing on it."

Mark Webber was ninth for Red Bull, the team using the extra day to look at long-term developments for the RB3. "A very good test in terms of the mileage covered and the reliability and performance of the car," was how the team’s chief test engineer Ian Morgan summed up their week. "The heat and humidity did not throw up any problems, although it was tiring for the team who did a fantastic job."

Next up was Webber’s Red Bull stable mateVitantonio Liuzzi in the Toro Rosso. As well as set-up and tyre evaluations, Toro Rosso’s emphasis was on testing new parts for the Ferrari-powered STR2.

"In some ways, this was like an extension of winter testing for us," said Toro Rosso’s chief engineer Laurent Mekies. "We had four busy days and reliability was okay for this stage in the season, but we still have a lot of work to do. The new aero and suspension components produced positive results and we hope to use some of them as early as next week's race."

The drivers will return to Sepang next Friday in opening practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix. The next multi-team test is scheduled for Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya in Spain in the week commencing April 30.

Unofficial Friday times from Sepang:
1. Heikki Kovalainen, Renault, 1:35.757
2. Felipe Massa, Ferrari, 1:35.808
3. Anthony Davidson, Super Aguri, 1:36.787
4. Nico Rosberg, Williams, 1:37.002
5. Franck Montagny, Toyota, 1:37.206
6. Nick Heidfeld, BMW Sauber, 1:37.318
7. Jenson Button, Honda, 1:37.326
8. Lewis Hamilton, McLaren, 1:37.448
9. Mark Webber, Red Bull, 1:37.778
10. Vitantonio Liuzzi, Toro Rosso, 1:38.542
11. Pedro de la Rosa, McLaren, 1:39.100
12. Christian Klien, Honda, 1:39.175