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No rest for McLaren chasers

HAVING been embarrassed by the pace of McLaren in Melbourne both Ferrari and Williams wasted no time in getting back into action after the Australian Grand Prix. Just hours after the race ended Ferrari began work at Fiorano with the team's new test driver Luca Badoer beginning his association with the team at the wheel of a 1997-spec F310B. The Italian then went to the Autodromo Nazionale in Monza where he was in action again on Wednesday, alongside Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who was fresh off a plane from Australia. Like Ferrari, Williams does not yet have enough new cars to do all the testing and so an old FW19 was used with Frentzen completing over 100 laps over two days as he evaluated the latest Goodyear tires. He set a best time of 1m24.53s, only a second and a half slower than Jean Alesi's pole position at Monza last year. The German's only problem was a clutch which needed to be replaced.

Badoer completed 53 laps with a best lap of 1m26.07s and then handed over the old Ferrari on Thursday to Eddie Irvine. The Ulsterman completed 66 laps before being stopped with an engine failure. Ferrari then packed up and began preparations for a six-day test that is being planned for Mugello this week. The team will have one new F300 available with Irvine doing three days and Michael Schumacher doing three days.

Williams is due to test at Barcelona with Prost and Jordan. Williams is hoping to have two cars available for the test but both Prost and Jordan will have to make do with just one, although both teams intend to run both of their drivers.

Sauber is spending several days at the Ferrari test track at Fiorano, trying to find a set-up which pleases Jean Alesi, the Frenchman struggling with understeer in Melbourne. Alesi is not keen on the same settings used by Johnny Herbert and so the Swiss are concentrating on him in an effort to make him more competitive than he was in Australia.

Benetton, McLaren and Stewart are all planning to test at Silverstone with McLaren planning to have two cars available for Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard and Benetton fielding one to be shared by Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz. Arrows and Tyrrell are thought likely to appear at the test as well.

McLaren is expected to continue to have a big advantage in the two South American races although rival teams are now working flat out on the design of power regeneration systems which will allow them to run the auxiliary pumps independently from the engines. We believe that Williams, Ferrari and Arrows are currently the most advanced in their research but none of the teams are expected to be in a position to race with power regeneration until the start of the European season at Imola at the end of April. We would expect McLaren's rivals to begin testing within a matter of weeks but they cannot afford to race the new systems until they have proved themselves to be reliable.

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