Scuderia Toro Rosso enjoyed substantially the most competitive showing of its grand prix career in opening practice at Magny-Cours, with both cars ending the day inside the top five and even showing the way to reigning double world champion Fernando Alonso.

Scott Speed wound up third-quickest, just three tenths of a second shy of Felipe Massa's best effort for Ferrari in the afternoon, though he stressed it was still too early to read much into the practice times, and urged caution as regards expectations ahead of the remainder of the weekend.

"I'm not sure exactly where we stand," the American confessed, "as you don't know what the others are doing in terms of fuel load. Certainly we were on the low side when I did my quickest lap. The gearbox is definitely a step forward and the car wasn't bad today, though we did struggle a bit from understeer.

"This afternoon I had a few problems - including one with the steering wheel - that prevented us from getting through all our programme apart from looking at the tyre comparison, and even that wasn't so conclusive as I had a problem on the warm-up lap for my last run. Generally, we look more competitive than we have in past races. Now we just need to work hard, keep our heads down and try not to make any mistakes for the rest of the weekend."

Team-mate Vitantonio Liuzzi was just two tenths and two places back in fifth, though he too admitted the performance was probably not an entirely accurate reflection of STR's true pace.

"Maybe the quick times look nicer than they are in reality," the Italian underlined. "We still have to work on improving the balance of the car, as the handling is not perfect yet. Even so, it is nice to see our names near the top of the order, at least on paper. Now we need to work on improving our traction and front-end grip.

"For sure we are more competitive as the car has made a big step forward, mainly with the new seamless-shift gearbox which makes for much quicker changes. However, the other teams have probably also improved in other areas. Tomorrow we will work on generally improving the set-up, but we can look to the rest of the weekend in a positive frame of mind."