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Schumacher fast but Williams persistent

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER set the fastest time of the four-day Imola test last week in his Ferrari F310 - but whether this is significant remains to be seen as the Williams domination in racing trim seems to be pretty much undented by progress being made by the opposition in qualifying.

Schumacher set a best lap of 1m27.84s on Thursday and although he did some race testing of the V10 engine used in qualifying for the San Marino GP - which had taken him to a pole position of 1m26.890s a few days earlier - the Ferrari star completed only 91 laps during his three days of running.

Michael's best time is understood to have been set using Goodyear's development qualifying rubber. Eddie Irvine did not get the chance to test and so continues to race at a disadvantage to his team leader.

Everyone but Schumacher set their best times of the test on the first day - Tuesday - when the weather was good and the track fast thanks to the rubber which had been put down during Sunday's San Marino GP. Rain on Wednesday afternoon and again after lunch on both Thursday and Friday slowed the track down and restricted the action but this did not stop the Williams team from completing a total of 250 laps with Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and test driver Jules Bouillion all running.

Hill was fastest on the first day with a best lap of 1m28.03s, a second slower than his best lap in qualifying. Jacques Villeneuve was only a fraction slower but stayed a day longer than Hill, who handed over to Boullion after two days.

Both Benetton drivers were in action for three days but Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger continued to struggle, completing only 135 laps between them. Berger set the fourth fastest time of the week - 1m28.40s. Alesi was 0.8s slower, concentrating on trying to solve the handling problems of the Benetton B196.

McLaren was able to complete nearly 200 laps in the course of the four days, with Alain Prost running the first MP4/11B chassis on Tuesday and Wednesday - getting down to a 1m28.95s before handing over to David Coulthard. The Scot recorded a best of 1m28.60s with the new car after 78 laps. Mika Hakkinen did just 25 laps.

Jordan ran on Tuesday and Wednesday with Rubens Barrichello, and on Thursday with Martin Brundle. The pair completed a total of 120 laps with Barrichello's best being a 1m28.82s.

Sauber was busy on all four days with Heinz-Harald Frentzen running the whole test and Herbert three of the four days. They completed 210 laps between them but neither could break the 1m29.00s barrier.

Ligier ran Pedro Diniz for a day and a half and then Olivier Panis took over for a further day and a half. Panis's best was a 1m29.31s.

Forti was also running with both its drivers trying out the new FG03/96 chassis.

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