Olivier Panis continued to set the pace in Italy, despite the presence of one Michael Schumacher.

The Monza GP winner joined the fray at Tuscany's Mugello circuit, replacing test driver Luca Badoer behind the wheel of the sole Ferrari, but could not displace Panis from the top of the times as both drivers completed well over a race distance during the day.

Panis propelled his McLaren to fastest mark, clocking 1min 24.80secs in the course of a mammoth 108 laps, as the Woking team continued its preparations for next weekend's USGP at Indianapolis. Schumacher, in response, could not better 1min 26.41secs, despite covering an impressive 96 tours during the day.

The German lapped less than a second faster than the third driver present on the day, as Sauber continued its evaluation of Formula Renault champion Kimi Raikkonen. The 20-year old Finn took on the weight of the team's second day programme after regular driver Pedro Diniz returned home with a hand injury, but appeared to take everything in his stride and further enhanced his growing reputation.

''Kimi has been doing a very good job all day, and continues to surprise us with the standard of his driving,'' commented Sauber test team boss Jacky Eeckelaert, ''He has made no mistakes, apart from one spin, and we have taken things to the next stage and begun assessing his sensitivity to set-up changes as we have run through the range of mechanical and aerodynamic adjustments. On this difficult circuit, we are being careful to let him progress at his own pace, without pressure from us, and he has given good feedback and acquitted himself extremely well.''

The Manor Motorsport driver had not expected to do as much running as he has to date, and was surprised to learn that Sauber intended to invite him back to the circuit on Friday to complete the test following the suspension of activities tomorrow [Thursday] to allow the marshals to attend the funeral of colleague Paolo Ghislimberti, who was killed at Monza on Sunday.

''I am pleased with what I have done so far, and I would like to thank Peter Sauber and his team for doing so much to make me comfortable,'' Raikkonen said, ''Driving a Formula One car is a lot more fulfilling than driving an F3 car - that's for sure!''

Ferrari's Luca Badoer, meanwhile, returned from Mugello to Fiorano to continue the Scuderia's preparation, completing 106 laps in the day, and working on a programme of aerodynamic changes. The Italian also worked on the F1-2000's braking and starting abilities in readiness for Indianapolis next weekend.

Leading performances (13 September):


Olivier Panis McLaren-Mercedes 1min 24.80secs 108 laps
Michael Schumacher Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 26.41secs 96 laps
Kimi Raikkonen Sauber-Petronas 1min 27.13secs 40 laps

[Times courtesy Red Bull Sauber Petronas]


Luca Badoer Ferrari-Ferrari 1min 02.056secs 106 laps