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Ferrari in deep trouble

FERRARI'S new F310 F1 challenger has not enjoyed the easiest of weeks. The car was due to be shaken down at Fiorano last weekend with the plan being to send the car to Portugal for a week of running alongside the other F1 teams.

It did not quite work out like that. The initial testing revealed that the car had a design problem with a seal between the engine and the gearbox. This could not be immediately solved and a new part had to be fabricated. And that meant that any plans to take the prototype F310 to Portugal had to be delayed.

With time running short, the team decided to leave the F310 in Italy and send the test team to Estoril with a 412 T2, fitted with the new V10 engine. Schumacher was despatched to Lisbon to drive it.

That test began badly on Tuesday with the World Champion suffering an engine failure after just seven laps. The team did not have another engine immediately available, and it was a day and a half before a new engine completed the 1400-mile trip from Italy. This was fitted into the 412 T2 and Schumacher started testing again on Wednesday evening, completing just seven laps before the curfew ended the day's running. Thursday began disastrously with more gearbox trouble and a small oil fire at the rear of the car, but by the end of the day Schumacher had completed 69 laps of the track.

The F310, in the meantime, has been prepared and arrived in time to begin testing on Friday morning. It broke down after just two corners. Repairs were made and Schumacher was able to run again in the afternoon, and on Saturday he completed 65 laps, setting the best time of the day, although this was 0.6s slower than his best in the 412 T2 on Thursday and the only other car testing was David Coulthard's McLaren.

Despite this, Ferrari boss Jean Todt said that the team was satisfied with the performance. Privately, team members admit that the first three races are going to be a real struggle for the team because they are quite simply not ready for the Championship to begin. The late launch of the car and the reliability problems mean that the team will go to Melbourne with very little testing, while other teams have completed thousands of miles of running.

The late arrival of the car was due to the fact that the team took the risk of allowing R&D to continue until the latest possible moment before the design was frozen. In theory this is the best policy, as the later a car is built the more progress has been made. Unfortunately, problems with manufacturing and the crash-testing meant that the entire build schedule was disrupted and everything is arriving late.

The only consolation at the moment is that when the new car runs it is achieving what was expected of it on the track, although the V10 engine is picking up weight as modifications are made to make the engine more reliable.

Spare a thought, incidentally, for Eddie Irvine who is still waiting for a second F310 to be completed so that he can run in the car.

Given the situation - and Ferrari's budget - it is possible that the team will decide to forgo the normal freight procedures and do a couple more days of testing before paying extra to fly everything to Australia.

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