With Renault employees expected to pack the grandstands at Magny-Cours over the French Grand Prix weekend, Nelson Piquet Jr did his bit to raise morale in the camp by emulating team-mate Fernando Alonso's session-topping performance on Saturday morning.

The Brazilian will also have taken personal heart from free practice three, where he headed the pre-qualifying pack for the first time in his Formula One career. But Piquet's advantage was scant - just 0.009secs separated him from Renault-powered Red Bull driver Mark Webber - as the hour-long session again threw up an expected look.

While the likes of McLaren, Ferrari and BMW Sauber focused on preparations for both qualifying and the race, Piquet was clearly running lighter, and moved to the head of the leaderboard some time before the chequered flag. The Brazilian had initially headed former GP2 rival Lewis Hamilton, but ended the hour coming out ahead of Webber, Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Kimi Raikkonen in an unfamiliar top five.

Raikkonen was the first of the 'big three' runners on the list, with Hamilton seventh, separated from the Ferrari by Jarno Trulli's Toyota, with Friday pacesetter Felipe Massa ninth and Heikki Kovalainen 13th. BMW Sauber duo Robert Kubica were also lower than expected of a Saturday session, with Canadian GP winner Robert Kubica 14th and Nick Heidfeld 18th, ahead only of the lacklustre Force Indias.

Local favourite Sebastien Bourdais made it two Toro Rossos in the top ten, with David Coulthard ensuring a good session for Red Bull, but the entire field was closely matched, with less than a second splitting Piquet from Heidfeld, with Giancarlo Fisichella and Adria Sutil the only ones to lag, 1.6 and 1.8secs adrift respectively.

 

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