Ferrari duo Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello showed a return to form yesterday by posting the fastest times in early practice for the San Marino Grand Prix.
Schumacher covered the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit in 1 minute, 21.356 seconds, followed by Barrichello in 1:22.885.
Championship leader Fernando Alonso, winner of the last two races, only brought his Renault out at the very end of the 45-minute session and did not complete a lap.
Alonso's teammate Giancarlo Fisichella drove three laps and was seventh fastest.
Sticking with their strategy from Friday's practice sessions, Schumacher and Barrichello drove many more laps than their rivals, totaling 22 between them.
Schumacher, the seven-time world champion, has just two points this season after completing only one of three races so far. Alonso has 26 points.
Sauber's Felipe Massa was third fastest with 1:22.971, followed by McLaren-Mercedes' Kimi Raikkonen in 1:23.723.
BAR Honda's Jenson Button, quickest in both of Friday's sessions, recorded only the 12th-fastest lap Saturday.
McLaren's third driver, Pedro de la Rosa, led both of Friday's sessions in a car unrestricted by race rules.
Third drivers are not permitted to practice on Saturday.
Toyota, second in the constructor's standings behind Renault, again was unimpressive. Ralf Schumacher finished eighth and Jarno Trulli, second to Alonso in the driver's standings, was 17th.
Indian driver Narain Karthikeyan spun out and his Jordan race car was towed back to the pits.
Another practice session and the first of two qualifying sessions were scheduled later Saturday.
The pole position for Sunday's race will be determined by combining the times from Saturday's qualifying and a second final qualifying session before today's race.
Sluggish ticket sales that have made the San Marino Grand Prix an uncertain fixture on the F1 calendar show no sign of picking up.
"Formula chaos, the public flee; Unpopular rules and grandstands empty," Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport said in a headline Saturday.
The paper noted that the stands at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari circuit were emptier than ever during the previous day's practice sessions, estimating 3,000-4,000 spectators.
It blamed high ticket prices and rule changes that include pushing the final qualifying round to this morning -- meaning that those who watched yesterday will go home without knowing who will be in pole position.
Tickets at Imola range from 35 euros (US$46) for a restricted pass to view practice and qualifying sessions, to 450 euros (US$588) for seats by the start line today -- the price of a 12-day holiday between New York and the Caribbean, Gazzetta noted.
"For a family with two children and a medium income it would be half their wages," said Renault boss Flavio Briatore.
Briatore added that he was open to pushing the final round of qualifying back to Saturday.
"We have to find a format that's more interesting," he said.
Though the San Marino Grand Prix marks its 25th anniversary in 2005, the fixture is at risk because organizers want to switch some races in Asia.
It is one of two GPs held in Italy, along with the Italian GP at the Monza circuit, which draws a steady stream of fans from nearby Milan.
Renault boss Flavio Briatore has always been outspoken. Now his drivers have swept the first three races of the season, he is taking aim at perennial Formula One power Ferrari.