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Back to Europe, back to work

THE Formula 1 teams returned to Europe last week after the two South American races and almost immediately testing began in preparation for the European season which begins next week at Imola.

The big teams - Williams, McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton - were all in action at Barcelona, joined by the Prost team. The main purpose of the test was to try the latest Goodyear rubber and the results were impressive with both Benettons and Jacques Villeneuve's Williams getting under the 1m18s barrier.

Fastest of the test was Gerhard Berger, who recorded a 1m17.71s in the course of Friday - by which time Williams had left. On the previous day Jacques Villeneuve had recorded a best lap of 1m17.82s.

On the Friday Jean Alesi also dipped into the 1m17s with a best lap of 1m17.96s. The fastest lap recorded previously at the track was in pre-season testing when Mika Hakkinen lapped the McLaren-Mercedes MP4-12 in 1m17.70s - which was suspected at the time of being achieved with an underweight car.

Benetton also ran test driver Alexander Wurz on the first day of the test, the Austrian concentrating on aerodynamic work. The team stayed at the track for four days, finishing off with a wet session on Saturday.

Williams stayed only two days, during which Villeneuve completed 124 laps. He was joined by test driver Jean-Christophe Boullion, who was trying out an old FW18 chassis, fitted with a narrow track rear end and modified bodywork, the first step towards designing the 1998 car, which has to be built to completely new technical rules. Williams then departed for Zandvoort where Villeneuve and Heinz-Harald Frentzen took part in a European season launch for Rothmans guests.

Ferrari ran one car with both Eddie Irvine and Michael Schumacher, developing the 046/2 engine and the team's active differential, while also doing tyre work. McLaren also ran both its drivers, trying to find more grip in preparation of the European races.

Panis completed just 42 laps in his Prost - which was running on Bridgestone tyres as usual.

The Jordan team did not bother to go to Barcelona and spent its time testing an active differential and new aerodynamics at Silverstone. Ralf Schumacher had steering problems on Wednesday and because work was going on at the track on Thursday Giancarlo Fisichella had to test on the tiny Stowe Loop, where it is impossible to get out of fourth gear. He was joined by Pedro Diniz in the Arrows after the team's day of testing on Wednesday was spoiled by customs delays in getting the cars back from South America. Damon Hill did run at Silverstone on Wednesday but the program could not be completed.

Sauber spent three days running at the Ferrari test track at Fiorano with Johnny Herbert doing the first two days, trying out new brakes and aerodynamic devices and Nicola Larini taking over for the final day.

Tyrrell, Stewart and Minardi did not go testing. Tyrrell is thus going to Imola without the hoped-for Ford ED5 V8 engines. The team may get some of the uprated ED4s, nicknamed ED4.5 by the Tyrrell boys in Argentina but the all-new engine will not appear before Monaco.

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