Jerez 4: Ralf fastest

Ralf Schumacher continued to underline the potential of the radical Williams FW26 by setting the fastest time on the fourth day of testing at Jerez today (Saturday)

Jerez 4: Ralf fastest

The drivers had a surprise when they reached the track this morning after discovering that the circuit had been cleaned overnight, ensuring the cars could find little grip early on. The track finally regained its grip late in the day, ensuring that the last half-hour saw many drivers set impressive times during qualifying-style runs.

Schumacher set a best time of 1m16.359s around the track in southern Spain, just 0.149s slower than the lap record set late last year by Pedro de la Rosa in the new McLaren MP4-19.

Marc Gene also ran for Williams, running in both the FW25 and the 'B' spec 2003 machine, fitted with a new engine and gearbox. His fastest time came in the older machine, although this was set right at the end of the session.

McLaren's race drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and David Coulthard, continued to struggle with bruising around their thighs in the new machine, despite the team carrying out modifications on the Finn's seat overnight. The problems have apparently arisen because neither of the drivers have had a full seat fitting in the new car, and have instead used a modified seat from the MP4-18.

Speaking about his comfort in the car, Raikkonen said: "It was a very bad day. I had no problems with visibility in the car. The seating position is very different from the MP4-17D but I've had no problems with it so far. The team cut the seat in half to make a new one for today, but we'll probably have to make a whole new seat."

Coulthard added: "It is a modified MP4-18 seat we've been using. I'm going to go back to the factory to have a fitting for it, but it won't be ready for the next test in Valencia. The car is completely different seating-wise [from the MP4-18]."

McLaren is due to test in private at Valencia from January 20-23. It will then move onto Barcelona on February 2.

Coulthard was reluctant to judge how much progress McLaren had made. "We did lots of miles," he said, "but it's difficult to say where we are. Others have been doing very quick times, so we'll have to see."

Takuma Sato was an impressive third fastest for BAR, despite concentrating on long runs. Anthony Davidson also ran for the team, but his progress was slowed by a massive Honda engine failure - the second for the manufacturer in as many days.

Ferrari concluded its test programme, which was largely focussed around Bridgestone tyre developments. Hisao Suganuma, Bridgestone's technical manager said: "90 percent of the Ferrari programme was tyres, and about 10 percent electrics. We've tested new shapes, components and constructions. We finished 80 percent of the programme already. It was a good test because of the weather. We now know the basis to go with for the first part of the season. It was a very, very good test."

Toyota took a day off from testing today, but is scheduled to return tomorrow with Ricardo Zonta.

Ralf Schumacher Williams-BMW M 1m16.359s 82*
David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes M 1m17.014s 104*
Takuma Sato BAR-Honda M 1m17.945s 103
Kimi Raikkonen McLaren-Mercedes M 1m18.054s 87*
Marc Gene Williams-BMW M 1m18.175s 3**
Felipe Massa Ferrari B 1m18.681s 62
Anthony Davidson BAR-Honda M 1m18.830s 95
Luca Badoer Ferrari B 1m18.841s 79
Marc Gene Williams-BMW M 1m18.864s 90***

B = Bridgestone
M = Michelin
* denotes 2004 car
** Gene in FW25
*** Gene in FW25B

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