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Activity at Silverstone

THERE was a big three-day test at Silverstone last week with Williams as ever setting the pace. The test on the much-revised Silverstone circuit began on Tuesday and ran until Thursday evening. Jacques Villeneuve did the first two days, completing 100 laps and setting a best time of 1m22.38s on Wednesday afternoon. Heinz-Harald Frentzen took over on Thursday and did 35 laps with a best of 1m23.36s. Williams test driver Jean-Christophe Boullion did all three days of the test with the 1998 narrow-track test car, recording a best lap of 1m30.20s.

The Jordans of Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella proved to be the cars closest to the Williams pace with Ralf completing 110 laps over the three days to record a best lap of 1m22.70s and Giancarlo doing just two days and 81 laps to record a 1m22.90s. The test was not without troubles, however, with Schumacher having one engine failure and problems with an oil leak and a fuel pump.

McLaren continued the development work of the new Mercedes-Benz V10 engine. Mika Hakkinen ran all three days completing 120 laps with a best of 1m23.11s on Wednesday. During the test he suffered a couple of engine problems. David Coulthard completed 128 laps with a best of 1m23.43s. This included an attempt at a race distance with the new engine - which ended in an engine failure.

McLaren ran German Formula 3 racer Nick Heidfeld once again in a 1996 McLaren-Mercedes MP4/11. He completed 120 laps with a best lap on the final day of 1m24.85s.

With Gerhard Berger out of action Benetton focused all its efforts on test driver Alexander Wurz who completed 80 laps over the three days trying out a package of modifications for the B197 which is due to appear in Montreal. The young Austrian recorded a best lap of 1m23.16s on the final day of the test.

Sauber came over to England - a rare occurrence - in an effort to be better prepared than in previous years for the British GP. Johnny Herbert ran the first two days of the test, completing 105 laps - with one spin into a sandtrap - and set a best lap of 1m23.35s. He then handed over to Gianni Morbidelli who 45 laps on the last day of the test, recording a best of 1m23.55s.

The Prost team was also over with Olivier Panis by himself for all three days, hammering around the track relentlessly for Bridgestone, completing 170 laps with a best of 1m23.42s.

Ferrari also turned up with Michael Schumacher completing 150 laps over the three days. His test was disrupted by a rear suspension failure on Wednesday which caused him to spin at high-speed. The work was concentrated on tire development, on the 046/2 engine and on Ferrari's electronic differential. Schumacher reported that in Silverstone's medium-speed corners the Ferrari was not good but he is hoping that new parts which are due to arrive shortly will improve this situation. Ferrari will test this week at Monza, with Eddie Irvine scheduled to run two days at the Autodromo Nazionale.

The Stewart team - which does not have a separate testing operation - arrived for the second and third days of the test and concentrated on engine development. Both drivers reported that the latest version of the Ford V10 is more driveable but does not have any more power. Rubens Barrichello completed 54 laps to record a 1m25.44s while Jan Magnussen did 77 laps and got down to a 1m24.46s.

Tyrrell was also present for the final two days of the test, running Brazilian Riccardo Rosset on Wednesday for 30 laps and then both Mika Salo and Jos Verstappen on Thursday. The pair used the old EV4 Ford V8 engines and concentrated on work with the brakes, exhaust systems and steering. Salo did 31 laps with a best of 1m25.30s and Verstappen did 25 laps with a best of 1m25.73s.

Arrows and Minardi did not appear at Silverstone. Arrows was busy launching a merchandising operation at its Leafield headquarters but will test for three days this week at Lurcy Levis, with a second test scheduled for Magny-Cours at the end of the week. Minardi will be at Magny-Cours today and tomorrow.

There was general agreement among the drivers at Silverstone that the changes made to the track have been a big improvement.

"I think Silverstone has done a great job," commented David Coulthard, "and with Copse once more a 150mph corner, I think it has more than recaptured the former glory of the famous track."

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