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Fisichella flies at Estoril

ITALIAN Giancarlo Fisichella was the star of the Estoril testing last week, setting competitive times in his first runs with the Benetton team. Fisichella is under a long-term contract with Minardi and so is expected to stay with the team next year.

Overall, Jacques Villeneuve was the fastest in the four-day test, lapping the track in 1m20.38s on Thursday. The French-Canadian ran on Wednesday and Thursday completing 110 laps; Williams test driver Jean-Christophe Boullion did three days (Tuesday, Thursday and Friday) completing 233 laps and setting the second quickest lap time - 1m21.04s. Damon Hill was present on Wednesday, running 47 laps with a best time of 1m21.47s - fifth fastest of the week. The Williams team thus completed a mammoth 390 laps.

This was matched by Benetton which ran five different drivers in the course of the test. Gerhard Berger was the quickest, setting the third best time of the week with a 1m21.09s on Friday. The test began with Jean Alesi and Giancarlo Fisichella on Tuesday and Wednesday. Test driver Vincenzo Sospiri took over from Fisichella on Wednesday afternoon, and on Thursday was joined by Berger. Sospiri handed the car over to Jarno Trulli in the afternoon, and Berger and Trulli completed the test. Alesi recorded a best of 1m21.21s (fourth fastest overall), Fisichella was seventh fastest (1m21.89s). Sospsiri lapped in 1m22.74 and Trulli did a 1m24.44s.

Sixth quickest of the week was Michael Schumacher who completed a total of 81 laps during the first two days of the test - recording a best lap of 1m21.58s. He then handed over to Eddie Irvine - who had run at Fiorano while Michael was in Portugal - for the last two days, Eddie completing 93 laps with a best of 1m22.15s.

Sauber's Heinz-Harald Frentzen ran on Wednesday and Thursday and set the eighth quickest (1m21.93s) time after only 43 laps. Johnny Herbert tested for three days (Tuesday-Thursday) and did 100 laps with a best of 1m22.77s. He was joined for the first day and half by the team's test driver Norberto Fontana, who completed 98 laps with a best lap of 1m23.53s.

Ninth quickest of the test was Jos Verstappen who ran on the first day - setting a lap of 1m22.21s - and then flew to the Nurburgring to test Bridgestones at the German circuit. His place was taken by Tarso Marques who completed a mammoth 150 laps before Jos returned on Friday. German rising star Jorg Muller did just 15 laps but is expected to do more serious testing in the weeks ahead.

The McLaren team completed 275 laps but did not set any outstanding times. Mika Hakkinen was 10th quickest overall, completing 69 laps on Wednesday and Thursday. David Coulthard ran 173 laps on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, while Alain Prost did 32 laps on Tuesday.

Jordan ran Martin Brundle, Gianni Morbidelli and Fabrizio de Simone. Test driver Morbidelli was running parts for the 1997 car and did all three days before the team headed for home, completing 117 laps. Brundle ran the first two days but did only 22 laps before flying off for a Peugeot promotional event at Nogaro. De Simone took over and completed 57 laps on Thursday, ending up the fastest of the three with a best lap of 1m22.48s. The team achieved only half the mileage of Williams and Benetton.

Tyrrell ran tester Emmanuel Collard on all three days with Mika Salo joining him on Tuesday and Ukyo Katayama running on Wednesday. Collard completed only 61 laps while Salo did 50 and Katayama 36. Collard was fastest with a lap of 1m22.67s

Minardi ran Lamy for the first two days before he demolished the car on Wednesday.

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