Damon Hill came out on top on day three of the final pre-season test, despite Silverstone being shrouded in rain and fog for much of the session.

The Jordan driver ran almost exclusively in the morning, when conditions were at their least favourable, but still managed to set a time half-a-second quicker than second placed Jos Verstappen. Hill left the circuit pleased with the progress he, the team and the new car are making, and in buoyant mood for the trip down under.

(I an totally confident that we have the equipment and the expertise to win several races, ) he said, (and show everyone that we are a true force to be reckoned with.)

Behind Verstappen - who continued to run strongly in the works Honda - Benetton's Giancarlo Fisichella once again outpaced team-mate Alex Wurz, setting a time just under two seconds from Hill's benchmark. Wurz was a further 1.4secs behind, separated from the Italian by an impressive Pedro de la Rosa.

The Spaniard was conducting his first proper run since being confirmed at Arrows for 1999, and shared the sole A20 chassis with prospective team-mate Tora Takagi. The Japanese's presence - and, more importantly, the continued absence of 1998 team leader Mika Salo - suggests that Takagi may indeed be lining up alongside de la Rosa in Melbourne. The former Tyrrell driver set eighth best time of the day.

Between Wurz and Takagi, Alex Zanardi held off another former Champcar titleist, Jacques Villeneuve, with both drivers insisting that they were not worried by their relative lack of pace. While the Italian will continue to test tomorrow [Thursday], Villeneuve was conducting his final test before setting off for Melbourne, and concentrated mainly on perfecting set-up.

(We used this shakedown to verify that everything was in place and ready for Australia,) he revealed, (This was not a test as such, so it did not help on the performance front, but we can go to Melbourne confident that all is fine and that we should be competitive in the first race.)

The Canadian's team-mate Ricardo Zonta brought up the rear, some ten seconds from Hill's pace, but followed the team line by saying that the run was merely a final preparation for his and BAR's first race.

Leading performances (24 February):

Damon Hill Jordan-Mugen 1min 35.66secs 27 laps

Jos Verstappen Honda-Honda 1min 36.39secs 34 laps

Giancarlo Fisichella Benetton-Playlife 1min 37.34secs 6 laps

Pedro de la Rosa Arrows-Arrows 1min 38.00secs 8 laps

Alex Wurz Benetton-Playlife 1min 38.74secs 3 laps

Alex Zanardi Williams-Mecachrome 1min 39.60secs 6 laps

Jacques Villeneuve BAR-Supertec 1min 40.94secs 8 laps

Tora Takagi Arrows-Arrows 1min 41.46secs 6 laps

Ricardo Zonta BAR-Supertec 1min 45.99secs 1 lap



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