Reigning world champions Renault enjoyed a better start than of late to their preparations for this weekend's Monaco Grand Prix, with Giancarlo Fisichella comfortably inside the top five throughout free practice.

Monaco specialist Fisichella had to switch across to team-mate Heikki Kovalainen's R27 in the afternoon after damaging his own chassis with an 'off' at Ste D?vote, but he was nevertheless positive for the remainder of the meeting, and hopeful of giving Renault its best result of the season so far.

"This was a better first day for us than at recent races," the Italian acknowledged. "The car balance was consistent, and I was feeling very comfortable out there. The only problem was that the tyres were graining quite badly in the very low-grip conditions, but we are confident that will disappear as the circuit conditions improve.

"I have to say thank you to my mechanics, who did a fantastic job at lunchtime to swap my chassis over after I damaged my first one with a small crash at Ste D?vote. They made it possible for me to run in P2, and now we have a really good starting point for Saturday morning."

Kovalainen, meanwhile, will be starting his first grand prix in Monte Carlo this weekend, though he did take pole position around the circuit on his sole GP2 appearance there two years ago. While he may have ended the day mired down in the lower reaches of the timesheets, the Finn blamed traffic for not featuring more highly and was convinced there was more potential to be unlocked from the car yet.

"It wasn't a very spectacular day for me," admitted the 25-year-old, the only rookie not to crash during practice. "Monaco is a fantastic challenge for all the drivers, and to be honest the car felt pretty good in terms of the balance. Ultimately, though, the times weren't quite there today, so we need to work tonight and tomorrow to improve things.

"I didn't get my last flying lap in during the second session because I was held up in traffic, so for sure there is more performance to come. It was a solid start, and I am optimistic we can improve a lot on Saturday."

Executive Director of Engineering Pat Symonds was equally encouraged by the R?gie's seemingly boosted level of competitiveness around the narrow street circuit, and confident the remainder of the weekend would witness the outfit's best performance of the campaign to-date.

"It was a normal, fraught Thursday for the team in Monaco," the Englishman remarked, "but it was a day from which we can draw many positives. Giancarlo's accident this morning damaged his original race chassis, and this will be replaced for Saturday. However, for this afternoon's session, it forced us into some car-swapping, and the mechanics once again succeeded in preparing the cars faultlessly under considerable pressure.

"Out on-track, Giancarlo's performance underlined the improvements we believe we are making at the moment, and with more - we hope - to come on Saturday, we are feeling more confident for qualifying than at previous races.

"Heikki's day was one of ups and downs, and unfortunately his new tyre run at the end of practice was compromised by traffic. Looking beyond the headline times, though, he and Giancarlo were lapping in very similar times on old tyres, and that leaves us encouraged by both drivers' performances ahead of Saturday."



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