Kimi Raikkonen remained on top of the pile at Paul Ricard as the four day Formula 1 group test at the French test circuit drew to a close on Friday.

The Ferrari driver, eager to put a disappointing retirement in the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend firmly in the past, posted a quickest time of 1min 28.624secs from his 101 laps of the 5.255km layout, making the Finn the only driver to break the 1min 29secs barrier.

Behind Raikkonen, Giancarlo Fisichella emerged as the 'best of the rest' as he set a quickest lap of 1min 29.209secs - with just seventh tenths of a second covering Fisichella and the rest of the field. The Italian continued with the team's development programme ahead of the upcoming races and ran without problems as he focused on set-up work and aerodynamic testing.

"We had a good day: 112 laps with no problems," Fisi enthused. "In terms of performance, the times are very closer and I am pleased with what we achieved today, as well as the handling of the car. We completed a big programme in preparation for Canada, and I think we are going in the right direction. I am pleased to be here working with the team today, because I know how important it is for us all to work hard at the moment."

McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa was just 0.040secs further back in third place while the Spaniard in turn was only 0.063secs ahead of Toyota's Franck Montagny.

The Frenchman spent the day working on various set-up options as well as evaluating Bridgestone tyres and completed another day of trouble-free running - helping the team in planning for the races in Montreal and at Indianapolis.

"The conditions were more favourable today and I was able to make better progress," he said. "We did some suspension and general set-up work and I also carried out more tyre evaluation. Without the wind that we had yesterday it was easier to make some more meaningful judgements in preparation for the North American races. We are learning all the time."

Building on his solid performance at Catalunya last weekend, David Coulthard was fifth quickest for Red Bull as the team worked on preparations for the Monaco Grand Prix and also on improving reliability on the RB3 - although a gearbox issue would see the Scot forced to bring his running to an early end.

"We have consolidated on our good result in Spain, by improving both in terms of performance and reliability," chief test engineer Ian Morgan said. "Even though a gearbox problem stopped David slightly early today, the component had exceeded its usual life and generally, we managed more than our target mileage over the four days. So we have moved forward, but of course, so have the other teams. The new race weekend timetable means we will be able to continue with some development work at the races."

A third day of running for James Rossiter with Super Aguri saw the Briton wrack up 131 laps of the French venue en-route to the sixth fastest time as the team continued to plan for Canada, while Spyker's Adrian Sutil posted exactly the same time as he worked on a programme focused on tyre evaluation, brake balance and set-up work for Montreal.

"We had a lot of on the agenda to work through today," the rookie driver said. "We tried out the tyre options available for Canada and although we still have some difficulties trying to get the most out of them, we did make a big step with the car set-up, got some positive running in and made some improvements. We especially got some information about the car under braking, the balance was good and it looks hopeful for Canada."

Nick Heidfeld worked on tyre comparison for BMW Sauber and was eighth quickest, while Jenson Button worked on aerodynamic development for Honda before an engine failure forced him to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the day.

"It was a reasonable day today and useful for me to experience the car on the Montreal configured circuit," he said. "Rubens and Christian had a busy week covering the work for Monaco so we should be well prepared going into the next few races. We will have to wait and see performance-wise, but I am particularly looking forward to Monaco next weekend as it is one of my home races."

Williams test driver Kazuki Nakajima was just 0.001secs behind Button as the team completed a trouble-free test - in stark contrast to the Barcelona test prior to the Spanish GP - while Tonio Liuzzi was the final driver on track, setting a best time just 0.003secs behind Button for Toro Rosso.

"In terms of performance, we ran across the range of aero settings, from maximum downforce for Monaco on the first two days, to minimum for Canada on these last two and we hope to have a new aero package in time for the Canadian Grand Prix," chief engineer Laurent Mekies said. "Overall therefore, this has been a productive four days, but we still have a lot of work to do to reach an acceptable level of reliability."

The teams now head for Monte Carlo for the Monaco GP next weekend - with the on-track action getting underway a day earlier than normal on Thursday.

Leading performances (18 May) - Paul Ricard:

1. Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari-Ferrari 1m 28.624s 101 laps
2. Giancarlo Fisichella Renault-Renault 1m 29.209s 112 laps
3. Pedro de la Rosa McLaren-Mercedes 1m 29.249s 79 laps
4. Franck Montagny Toyota-Toyota 1m 29.312s 79 laps
5. David Coulthard Red Bull-Renault 1m 29.834s 77 laps
6. James Rossiter Super Aguri-Honda 1m 29.869s 131 laps
7. Adrian Sutil Spyker-Ferrari 1m 29.869s 83 laps
8. Nick Heidfeld BMW Sauber 1m 29.978s 119 laps
9. Jenson ButtonHonda-Honda 1m 29.989s 100 laps
10. Kazuki Nakijima Williams-Toyota 1m 29.990s 100 laps
11. Vitantonio Liuzzi Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m 29.993s 56 laps

all times unofficial - courtesy of Renault



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