Lewis Hamilton again topped the times as the Formula One group test at Paul Ricard's HTTT facility rolled into a second day, underlining his potential as a possible Monaco Grand Prix winner.

Not only is the British rookie - and current championship leader - growing in confidence with every grand prix he contests, but he is also a demon around the Principality. With McLaren giving him every chance to hone his MP4-22 in testing on the closest thing Ricard has to offer as a Monaco substitute, Hamilton continues to reduce the factors counting against him before round five of the championship next weekend.

He completed another 133 laps - or nearly 480km - around track solution 2D SC, improving his fastest lap from Tuesday to set a new benchmark at 1min 05.614secs while focusing on preparations for Monaco race. Among his worklist for Wednesday was evaluation of the car's aero package and set-up as well as the usual work on tyre choice.

After Ralf Schumacher's morale-boosting second fastest time on the opening day of the test, something approaching normal order was restored on Wednesday, with Felipe Massa pushing Ferrari into second spot and Robert Kubica confirming BMW Sauber's 'best of the rest' status in third.

The Brazilian lapped just over a tenth off Hamilton's best as he completed 107 laps working on set-up, tyre comparisons and aerodynamic development. He reported, however, that the very windy conditions were making accurate results hard to come by.

Taking over from Timo Glock, Kubica was fully four-tenths adrift of the Ferrari, as BMW Sauber worked on aerodynamic modifications on the F1.07. The team also completed development work on the car's electronic systems during the morning session, before Kubica worked through a series of different set-ups after lunch.

Unlike McLaren and Ferrari, which will have Pedro de la Rosa and Kimi Raikkonen taking over driving duties respectively, the Pole will continue driving tomorrow, when the test switches to a longer version of the Paul Ricard track, to run a medium downforce package in preparation for the Canadian and the US grands prix.

David Coulthard continued Red Bull's recent improvement in fourth place, as the team focused on tyre evaluation and completed some aerodynamic and suspension work, while Takuma Sato built on his point-scoring finish in Spain by taking over the lone Super Aguri car from new test driver James Rossiter. Although the team had a small set back in the morning, the Japanese driver completed 115 laps testing the two tyre options available for Monaco, setting a best time of 1min 06.2821secs to sit fifth fastest ahead of more established operations.

Heikki Kovalainen completed Renault's second day, continuing the programme begun by Nelson Piquet Jr on Tuesday. The Finn concentrated on car set-up ahead of
the race in Monaco, and conducted several aerodynamic tests during the day. The team once again collected interesting data that it believes will give it a good working platform for the next race.

"It was an interesting day of ahead of next week's race," Kovalainen reported, "We worked on the set-up and the tyres, and the car reacted well to the different changes. I think our testing yesterday and today will give us a good basis for the opening practice sessions on Thursday in Monaco."

"We completed a trouble-free day without any difficulty, and ran through a wide range of set-up solutions that we wanted to test," added chief test engineer Christian Silk, "I think the data from today looks good, and will be a good basis for our work in Monaco and at the next races. It was a busy day for Heikki, and the engineers now have to analyse the data to make the most of the work he completed today."

Rubens Barrichello completed 103 laps for Honda after replacing test driver Christian Klien, while Alex Wurz took over from team-mate Nico Rosberg at Williams, working on his own preferences for Monaco without too many problems and edging Schumacher on the timesheets.

The German completed his second day of testing by focusing on the high-downforce aerodynamics Toyota intends to take to Monaco, as well as the different electronic maps that will be used on the streets of the Principality. According to the team, lap times were not the priority and Schumacher enjoyed a positive day with no reliability concerns.

"Ralf has had a good test and we did all that we needed to do for Monaco," test team manager Gerd Pfeiffer confirmed, "It is the first time that we have run the extra wings and flaps that you have in high downforce trim and there was also a lot of electronic work to concentrate on. We had good reliability again and the emphasis today was not on setting quick times, but on doing a comprehensive programme. I think, in general, we can be happy, but the proof is always the result at the end of the race."

Sitting quietly at the lower end of the timesheets was Sebastien Bourdais, who returned for a second test with Scuderia Toro Rosso - which continues to be linked to a possible deal with the Frenchman for next season. The three-time Champ Car king completed 142 laps at a venue he is familiar with through his sportscar testing, with a best lap of 1min 07.743secs. There were no mechanical problems, allowing Bourdais to evaluate both Bridgestone tyre compounds over long runs, as well as comparing a couple of new aerodynamic and mechanical components.

Spyker again brought up the rear of the timesheets as it split its track time between race regulars Adrian Sutil and Christijan Albers, who took over driving duties from tester pilot Fairuz Fauzy.

The team pushed on with its Monaco preparations, with Sutil putting in valuable work on tyre evaluation and set-up options in the morning, and Albers taking over after lunch to put in some quick laps as he checked systems in advance of next week's grand prix.

"Both race ran a similar programme, working on set-up and control systems developments and comparing the tyres available for the race," chief race and test engineer Dominic Harlow commented, "The engineers made good progress in improving the car behaviour in the low speed corners. Tomorrow, we will have changed the specification of the car overnight to suit the Montreal simulation circuit layout that will be used for the remainder of the test."

With the test switching to another layout on the Ricard menu, several drivers will return to the cockpit, namely Rossiter at Super Aguri and Scott Speed at Toro Rosso. Mark Webber will be back behind the wheel for Red Bull, while Franck Montagny takes over from Schumacher at Toyota, and Albers shares the lone Spyker with Markus Winkelhock.

Leading performances (16 May) - Paul Ricard:

Lewis Hamilton McLaren-Mercedes 1m 05.614s 133 lapsFelipe Massa Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 05.755s 107Robert Kubica BMW Sauber 1m 06.186s 140David Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1m 06.201s 137Takuma Sato Super Aguri-Honda 1m 06.281s 115Heikki Kovalainen Renault-Renault 1m 06.302s 151Rubens Barrichello Honda-Honda 1m 06.516s 103Alex Wurz Williams-Toyota 1m 06.576s 106Ralf Schumacher Toyota-Toyota 1m 06.598s 111Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 07.743s 142Christijan Albers Spyker-Ferrari 1m 07.946s 66**Adrian Sutil Spyker-Ferrari 1m 08.134s 67*

[* denotes driver running AM session only; ** denotes driver running PM session only]

All times unofficial - courtesy of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes

 

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