Pedro de la Rosa proved that McLaren's modified MP4-20 is now a serious threat to Renault's domination of Formula One when he came close to breaking the lap record during testing at Jerez in Spain on Friday
The Spaniard's best lap of 1:15.651 was just one thousandth of a second slower than Michael Schumacher's unofficial record from last September with the F2004.
Despite just missing out on the record accolade, de la Rosa was clearly delighted with the improvements to the McLaren that are expected to be used for the Spanish Grand Prix.
"I did lots of tyres for Barcelona and also some suspension work on the front, which will be good," he told Autosport-Atlas. "There were many little improvements and I checked out the reliability of that. It is better in all areas - its power, handling and characteristics."
Irrespective of the progress made by the car, de la Rosa's performance will have certainly not hurt his chances of being considered for the second race seat at McLaren for his home Grand Prix if Juan Pablo Montoya is not fit to return.
"I don't know if I will race or not," he said when asked about his chances of a home outing. "With that one-thousandth of a second missing, maybe I should have tried harder."
Behind second fastest Kimi Raikkonen, World Championship leader Fernando Alonso was left almost half a second adrift with the third fastest time, as the team continued their preparations from the Spanish Grand Prix.
But work on Renault's new B-spec engine suffered a pretty major setback when test driver Franck Montagny suffered a spectacular blow-up coming out of the pits in the morning.
Flames reached several metres into the air and burnt the bodywork of the car, with the team now likely to face a tough decision about whether to use that engine in Barcelona or revert to the safer but slightly less fast A-spec unit.
David Coulthard gave his Red Bull Racing team reason to feel more encouraged about the progress being made with the RBR1 as he ended the day less than one tenth of a second slower than Alonso.
The Scotsman was working on aerodynamic developments for the Spanish Grand Prix, with Vitantonio Liuzzi working on tyres and general set-up work to try and improve the balance of the car.
The Toyota team also wrapped up their preparations for the Spanish Grand Prix, with Ralf Schumacher replacing teammate Jarno Trulli.
"It was a reasonable test," said Ralf. "We had a couple of technical issues but we still got through some important work for Barcelona and we should be okay.
"Unfortunately I had to cut short my low-fuel runs because I had some longer stints to do for tyre evaluation. So that part of the programme wasn't totally conclusive and I will have to wait until the next test at Paul Ricard to learn more."
Pos Driver Team-Engine Tyres Time Laps 1. de la Rosa McLaren-Mercedes (M) 1:15.651 129 2. Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes (M) 1:16.473 69 3. Alonso Renault (M) 1:16.942 97 4. Coulthard Red Bull-Cosworth (M) 1:17.026 138 5. Panis Toyota (M) 1:17.332 65 6. R.Schumacher Toyota (M) 1:17.405 61 7. Liuzzi Red Bull-Cosworth (M) 1:17.566 92 8. Montagny Renault (M) 1:18.430 61
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