Current championship leader, Lewis Hamilton set the pace at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the South of France on Tuesday, as the latest Formula 1 test got underway.

All the teams were focusing on preparation for the Monaco Grand Prix in two weeks time and as such the 3.593 kilometre 2D SC circuit configuration was utilised to try and simulate the conditions at the Principality. Hamilton completed 98 laps in total during the day, his best time a 1 minute 05.699 seconds, over a second up on Ralf Schumacher, who was 'best of the rest' for Toyota.

Lewis began by focusing on set-up work and on Bridgestone tyre evaluations ahead of the Monaco Grand Prix in less than two weeks time. He also spent time on the mechanical development of the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-22.

Ralf meanwhile did 96 laps for Toyota, the German enjoying a trouble-free day in the TF107. His main complaint though concerned the conditions, as while it was dry, it was very windy, especially in the morning.

"The main focus of my test is to concentrate on detail work for Monte Carlo. The car was quite oversteery early in the day and that wasn't helped by the strong gusting winds that, at one point, were moving me over a couple of metres on the main straight," he reflected. "You sometimes get that on a motorway overtaking a lorry on a windy day but it's not a nice feeling at 200mph!

"People talk about the strong Mistral wind in this part of the world and I certainly experienced it today. Sometimes the wind was so strong that you barely got top gear on the straight but when conditions were calmer we had a productive day, trying a number of set-ups as well as evaluating the super soft and soft tyres for Monaco."

Despite the less than perfect conditions though, Toyota test team manager, Gerd Pfeiffer was satisfied: "We had a good day with no reliability issues and got through our programme. Ralf was happier with the set-up later in the day and it has provided a good base for what is an important test," he added.

"With Monaco coming up we have also been running the super soft and soft Bridgestone tyres. We have a busy schedule to get through, which Ralf will continue tomorrow while Franck [Montagny] takes over on Thursday and Friday."

After Ralf, Nelson Piquet Jr came in third for Renault, a tenth or so up on Mark Webber, who was fourth for Red Bull. Piquet had a very productive day and in the end did 125 tours.

"I am pleased to be driving an F1 car here," said the Brazilian. "I know the circuit well from GP2, and it was interesting to see how it looked from the cockpit of the R27. I ran a lot today, just like in Barcelona last time out, and that's always a good thing. I think we made good progress, and it was a positive, encouraging day for the rest of the week."

Christian Silk, Renault's chief test engineer felt that it was a 'good first' day for the team: "We made good progress, without any problems at all, and Nelsinho did exactly the job we wanted from him - without any mistakes at all," he continued. "We work on the electronic systems, and traction control development; the results were interesting, and we will continue preparations for Monaco tomorrow with Heikki."

Further down the order, Nico Rosberg was fifth for Williams. Rosberg like Piquet and Webber did over 120 laps, ending the day with 127 on the board. He was less than two hundredths off the Red Bull.

"At a very windy Paul Ricard circuit, we've been running through a substantial test programme today," said Williams test team manager, Dickie Stanford. "Nico completed a considerable 127 laps on the modified, Monaco-based track and experienced no problems with the car. We will carry on with our planned schedule tomorrow with Alex [Wurz] driving."

Of the rest, Felipe Massa was sixth for the Scuderia on a 1m 07.271s. The Brazilian driver worked on finding the best set-up with the Ferrari F2007 and on the development of aerodynamic and mechanical components

Next up was Honda's Chris Klien, while Timo Glock rounded out the top eight for BMW Sauber, two tenths up on James Rossiter, who signed a test deal with Super Aguri on Monday.

Glock, who will hand over the BMW Sauber F1.07 to Robert Kubica on Wednesday, had no issues all day, completing 114 laps, while working mainly on set-up and system work. He also tested some new mechanical components that, according to the team, revealed 'promising results'.

Rossiter did 129 laps for Super Aguri, the most of anyone runner and was delighted with proceedings: "It has been a great first day with the Super Aguri F1 team," he noted. "It felt good to be driving again having last driven in February and I thoroughly enjoyed it! After quickly getting to know the team and the car, we worked on finding good car balance and running with the Monaco wings in the morning.

"In the afternoon we did longer runs evaluating the tyre options for the next race and we had good reliability. The team is very professional and we worked well together, so overall it was a very good first day for me."

Toro Rosso's Scott Speed and Fairuz Fauzy were the only other runners on track, tenth and eleventh on the timesheets. Speed did 53 laps in total despite a few mechanical problems with the STR02. Sebastien Bourdais will take over from the American on Wednesday, when testing will resume. Fauzy managed more laps - 74 to be precice - but was quite a bit slower in the Spyker, a minute off Speed and over 3.5 mintues off Hamilton.

Fauzy was still happy though and added that he would have been quicker if he hadn't had a problem on his best lap: "Today was a good, positive session. We went out just before lunch and did 10 laps to check the balance of the car, then focussed on getting a good set-up for Monaco in the afternoon. We put some new tyres on, but unfortunately I had a small problem on my quickest lap so the time isn't really representative of the progress we made," he confirmed.

"Our pace over the longer runs was pretty good - quicker than the Toro Rosso cars - and much better when we fitted new brakes, so that's encouraging for the team. I hope Adrian [Sutil] and Christijan [Albers] will find the car much better when they take over."

Testing now continues on Wednesday.

Leading performances (15 May) - Paul Ricard:

1. Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1min 05.699secs 98 laps
2. Ralf Schumacher Toyota-Toyota 1m 06.920s 96 laps
3. Nelson Piquet Jr Renault-Renault 1m 07.056s 125 laps
4. Mark Webber Red Bull-Renault 1m 07.161s 121 laps
5. Nico Rosberg Williams-Toyota 1m 07.189s 127 laps
6. Felipe Massa Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 07.271s 94 laps
7. Christian Klien Honda-Honda 1m 07.357s 115 laps
8. Timo Glock BMW Sauber 1m 07.712s 114 laps
9. James Rossiter Super Aguri-Honda 1m 08.026 129 laps
10. Scott Speed Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 08.143s 53 laps
11. Fairuz Fauzy Spyker-Ferrari 1m 09.443s 74 laps

all times unofficial - courtesy of McLaren

Track/weather conditions: Sunny all day with windy conditions. Track temperature, 32.2? C / Ambient temperature, 17.8? C



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