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Alesi beats Jerez record

WITH all but two of the new Formula 1 cars now up and running, attention in the last few days has been fixed on the racing circuits of Spain and Portugal where most of the new cars are now running.

At Jerez Benetton, Williams, Jordan and Tyrrell have all been in action in the last few days. The test began on Thursday with Benetton and Tyrrell running together. That day Berger recorded a best lap of 1m21.80s. By Sunday night Berger had completed 350 miles. Alesi did only 235 miles in the same period but on Sunday recorded a best time of 1m21.25s, which is 0.01s quicker than Berger's record lap last month.

Tyrrell's test program featured two cars for Mika Salo, Jos Verstappen and Toranosuke Takagi. By Sunday evening they had completed nearly 950 miles of running with Salo the fastest, having recorded a best lap of 1m22.36s on Sunday. Verstappen did not run that day and had to settle for a 1m23.86s, while Takagi completed just eight laps to record a 1m26.23s.

Jordan and Williams arrived in Jerez on Friday and the new Williams-Renault FW19 was immediately on the pace as it had been during its shakedown runs at Barcelona the previous week when Jacques Villeneuve was able to record a best lap of 1m18.86s after just 80 laps. To put the new car into perspective, Damon Hill's pole position in the FW18 at Barcelona in June was 1m20.650s. In a mid-January test - using an FW18B - Villeneuve lapped in 1m19.95s, while just a few days before the new car appeared Heinz-Harald Frentzen recorded a 1m19.95s in an FW18C. There was rain on Monday and the track was slower on Tuesday when Frentzen took over testing, completing 88 laps - with a best of 1m19.52s - before the team packed up and headed for Jerez. Aside from a few minor technical problems the car proved to be reliable and the drivers completed 500 miles between them. Both drivers felt that the new car was a step forward from the FW18 which dominated the World Championship last year.

Frentzen began running at Jerez on Friday and recorded a 1m23.35s lap after only four laps. He was then sidelined by an electronic problem. On Saturday he completed 23 laps with a best of 1m22.78s before handing over to Villeneuve on Sunday. Jacques completed 25 laps with a best of 1m22.16s.

The new Jordan 197 had been run for the first time on Silverstone's national circuit on Tuesday with Ralf Schumacher completing 28 shakedown laps with a best time of 46.08s. The team then headed to Jerez but Schumacher caught influenza and so it was Giancarlo Fisichella who drove. The young Italian completed just 41 laps in the course of the three days but on Sunday recorded a best lap of 1m21.94s - a time only beaten to date by the Benettons. The team will stay at Jerez until Tuesday after which it will head to Estoril where there should be two new cars available.

At Estoril McLaren began running on Monday with Hakkinen running the singleton MP4-12 for two days before handing over to David Coulthard for Wednesday and Thursday. Hakkinen returned on Friday and Coulthard finished off the test on Saturday. The Scotsman has been consistently quick lapping in the 1m19s on all three days of his test with a best of 1m19.62s on Wednesday. Pole position in September's Portuguese Grand Prix went to Damon Hill with a lap time of 1m20.330s.

Both Coulthard and Hakkinen were each able to complete over 200 laps during their testing. Hakkinen's best lap was a 1m20.34s, set on Friday but he was beaten on Saturday by both Ferrari drivers, Michael Schumacher recording 1m20.04s and Eddie Irvine clocking 1m20.28s. Ferrari has done a lot less running than McLaren, however, despite having two F310Bs available. There have been more mechanical problems, notably a suspension problem for Schumacher on Thursday. Ferrari is due to continue testing at Estoril until Tuesday.

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