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Testing in Estoril

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger were all in action for their new teams at Estoril in Portugal last week, and although times from the testing are pretty meaningless because they were merely getting to know the engineers and the cars, all three were beaten by F1 new boy Jacques Villeneuve in his Williams-Renault.

Villeneuve recorded a best time of 1m20.96s - which is about half a second slower than David Coulthard's pole position at the track at the Portuguese GP in September. It was Villeneuve's first visit to Estoril, but his fifth test for Williams at different tracks, following in the footsteps of Silverstone in August, Monza in September, and Imola and Magny-Cours in October.

Villeneuve is happy with progress so far and reckons that the miles and miles of testing will give him experience which, "will allow me to start in F1 with experience no other young driver has ever had." Before the end of the year Jacques is expected to be seen in action at Barcelona as well.

Villeneuve completed only four of the five days of testing, but did a couple of hundred laps - working on Goodyear tire development as well as getting used to the track.

The weather throughout the test was changeable, with several of the sessions interrupted by rain.

Schumacher did all five days of the test with two cars: one fitted with a standard Ferrari V12 engine and the other with a new V10. He ended up second fastest to Villeneuve with a best lap of 1m21.21, using the V12. He was unable to break out of the high 1m22s with the V10, but nonetheless reported that the new engine was very good.

"It needs a lot of work on development," Michael explained, "but there is no doubt that it will be the solution for 1996. The chassis/engine package is definitely better with the V10 because it gives you a more agile car."

Benetton split the test between Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger. The Frenchman did the first three days - recording a best lap of 1m21.44s - before handing over to Berger. Gerhard, however, was in trouble fitting his lanky frame into the cockpit of the B195. He recorded a 1m22.26s lap on Thursday, but the team then decided that there was no point in going on with the testing, and the team packed up and headed for home, the plan being to modify the chassis for Berger before the next tests at Jerez which begin in a week.

Alesi set his best lap while running with a normal fuel load, and despite a couple of spins, found the car easy to drive.

Throughout the test Schumacher continued to play down Ferrari's chances next season, constantly pointing out that there is a long way to go before the team is competitive.

"I don't think we are going to be World Champions next year," he said. "We will hopefully win some races, and we will develop and be ready in 1997 to win the Championship. We're going to be going through a tough year with the new engine which will sometimes maybe not finish the race."

"But I see light at the end of the tunnel, which will be a championship - not next year, but the year after. I have won everything with Benetton, so the challenge is to try and do it again with Ferrari."

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