David Coulthard and McLaren again led the way in Formula One testing, this time setting a mesmerising pace on the third day of running at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.

The Scot's unofficial time of 1min 15.711secs ducked under the testing lap record for the circuit and left the rest of the field standing as he provided a useful morale boost to a McLaren-Mercedes squad hoping to regain its winning ways in 2003.

Coulthard's closest challenger proved to be young Antonio Pizzonia, who enjoyed a largely trouble-free day to take second spot, albeit some 1.7secs adrift of the McLaren. The Brazilian completed almost 100 laps for Jaguar, clearly putting his heavy off of Tuesday to the back of his mind as he out-paced Williams veterans Juan Montoya, Marc Gene and Ralf Schumacher, all were all in action for the Grove team.

Montoya was the best placed of the trio, taking third spot, just a matter of hundredths shy of Pizzonia, while Gene and Schumacher followed in fourth and sixth, all within a second of the Brazilian. Test regular Gene was split from his German team-mate by Olivier Panis, the Wednesday pace-setter seeing his Toyota pushed back down the order, but still recording a creditable fifth fastest lap.

Mark Webber followed Schumacher with the second of the Jaguars, racking up almost as many miles as his new team-mate and pushing the German close in terms of times.

The second McLaren only achieved seventh spot on the timesheets, but this was still notable as the car was driven by young Briton Gary Paffett. The new German F3 champion replaced Alex Wurz alongside Coulthard in an effort to increase his F1 mileage, and also provide an opportunity for him to demonstrate his candidature as a potential second test driver for the Woking marque.

Paffett's pace - he was within a tenth of Schumacher's best effort - allowed him to end the day ahead of more experienced drivers such as Jacques Villeneuve, while the second of the BARs, in the hands of Anthony Davidson, came in ahead of Renault's Fernando Alonso and two F1 rookies who added to their experience throughout the day.

Davidson only managed four laps in total as his Honda-powered 004 was struck by problems, but he still managed to record a faster lap than Alonso's 1min 19.854secs best. Fellow Briton Ralph Firman, the reigning FNippon champion, joined Davidson in the Lucky Strike camp, having seen his test date brought forward ten days, and comfortably headed Portugal's Tiago Monteiro, despite the Renault Development driver moving into his second day of testing.

Leading performances (5 December):

David Coulthard McLaren-Mercedes 1min 15.711secs 68 lapsAntonio Pizzonia Jaguar-Cosworth 1min 17.405secs 98 lapsJuan Montoya Williams-BMW 1min 17.444secs 62 lapsMarc Gene Williams-BMW 1min 17.775secs 61 lapsOlivier Panis Toyota-Toyota 1min 18.038secs 59 lapsRalf Schumacher Williams-BMW 1min 18.150secs 75 lapsMark Webber Jaguar-Cosworth 1min 18.213secs 74 lapsGary Paffett McLaren-Mercedes 1min 18.224secs 63 lapsJacques Villeneuve BAR-Honda 1min 18.828secs 72 laps*Anthony Davidson BAR-Honda 1min 19.645secs 4 laps*Fernando Alonso Renault-Renault 1min 19.854secs 65 lapsRalph Firman BAR-Honda 1min 21.045secs 47 laps*Tiago Monteiro Renault-Renault 1min 21.504secs 58 laps

[* denotes cars using Bridgestone tyres - all others on Michelin]

 

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