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Schumacher's first Ferrari test

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER had his first laps in a Ferrari Formula 1 car last week at the team's Fiorano test track near Modena, Italy. The World Champion flew back to Europe from Australia and headed straight to the Ferrari base to complete 20 laps in a Ferrari 412 T2, fitted with the new V10 engine.

"I was quite impressed with the car," said Schumacher. "The basics seem to be right. I didn't go for lap times, the real testing will be in Estoril next week."

After the test Schumacher and his new team mate Eddie Irvine met the press and took the opportunity to warn Ferrari fans around the world not to expect any instant results.

"Expectations will certainly be high," he said after, "but like any team, we will need time to work together. I'm sure the potential is there for Ferrari to be world champions but it will take a while. I think we will use 1996 to get ready to really fight for the championship title in 1997. Right now there is just a little bit missing and it's up to me and Eddie to find that extra."

The pressure, however, will certainly be on at Ferrari - particularly from Fiat boss Cesare Romiti who wants results. The excitable Italian press has been busy building up Schumacher and Ferrari for next year and if the results do not come there is likely to be a huge press outcry. After this year's Italian Grand Prix when Jean Alesi retired from the lead with a few laps to go, there were rumors that Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo was going to be fired. These were so strong that Romiti formally denied them.

Montezemolo has done well in the marketplace with Ferrari selling more cars than ever before. There is little doubt that the racing program is an important marketing tool but success in F1 has been limited. The team last won the Drivers' Championship way back in 1979 - with Jody Scheckter and the team's last Constructors' title came in 1983. The years 1984-88 netted only six wins in 80 races. There was a brief revival in 1989-90 with nine wins in two seasons but since then there were no wins at all in the 1991-92-93 seasons. It was not until Gerhard Berger's lucky victory in Germany in July 1994 that the team returned to the winner's circle and this year was a similar story with Jean Alesi's Canadian victory being rather fortunate.

Montezemolo has been in charge now for four years and has gradually put together a formidable team: he recruited Niki Lauda to act as an advisor and then hired top F1 designer John Barnard in August 1992 and hired Jean Todt to be Sporting Director in July 1993. Todt's plan was for all the groundwork to be completed in time for a Championship bid in 1996. He recruited top engine men, including former Honda designer Osamo Goto and, on the chassis side, lured Gustav Brunner from Minardi, McLaren's top race engineer Giorgio Ascanelli and Benetton's aerodynamicist Willem Toet. In 1994, Todt commissioned design studies into a V8, a V10 and a V12. With the new three-liter engine regulations for 1995 it was decided that the V10 was the best bet for success.

The team should be competitive next year - there can be no excuses with the money that has been spent - and so if Ferrari does not deliver there is bound to be pressure for change. The cautious attitude of the drivers would, therefore, suggest a deliberate policy of lowering expectations - just in case things do not go to plan, rather than an honest belief that the team will not be ready.

Schumacher and Irvine are expected to begin serious testing for Ferrari at Estoril today with the new car scheduled to appear in January. We hear from Maranello, incidentally, that the aerodynamics of the new car will feature an interesting new raised nose arrangement - nicknamed Duck II inside Ferrari. Ferrari ran a duck-bill-shaped nose back in 1990.

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