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APRIL 6, 1998

McLaren rests as chasers test

THE West McLaren Mercedes team has scored maximum points in the first two Grands Prix of the season and the Woking team's domination is complete. As a result Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard were given some time off last week following a hectic few weeks of racing and testing. After finishing 1-2 in Brazil Hakkinen took off for a quiet holiday in Uruguay while Coulthard headed for Miami.

While McLaren can afford to have a bit of a rest its rivals are working flat out in an effort to catch up and last week Williams, Ferrari and Jordan were all testing in Barcelona, just three days after the race at Interlagos. The Wednesday running was disrupted by wet weather but this did not stop Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Damon Hill from doing plenty of laps of the Circuit de Catalunya.

In the course of the three-day test Schumacher completed nearly 200 laps of the track, trying out a variety of new aerodynamic set-ups, new Goodyear tires and a rear wing which will be used in Argentina. His best lap was a 1m23.88s although this is nowhere close to the fastest times set at the circuit during the winter.

Frentzen had a brand new Williams FW20 chassis to play with and in the course of his two days of running - which was mainly for tire testing - he completed 80 laps of the track before handing the car over to the team's second test driver MaxÊWilson. The young Brazilian completed 49 laps on the final day of running.

Jordan ran Damon Hill for the first two days of the test, the former World Champion concentrating on engine-mapping with the Mugen Honda V10 engine in addition to chassis and tire development work. Damon completed a total of 156 laps before handing over to Ralf Schumacher. The German ran on both Friday and Saturday before the Jordan test team packed up and headed back to England.

Benetton did not bother travelling to Spain but went instead to Silverstone, in blustery Northamptonshire. Rather than fly Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz back to Europe from South America, the team used its former driver Jos Verstappen to test and although the first day of the test was badly disrupted by rain, Verstappen did manage to cover a total of 65 laps, working on data acquisition and reliability work. Jos hopes to be hired as the team's test driver, although he will have to bring $800,000 to the team for the privilege.

Sauber decided not to test between the races, preferring to give the race team a bit of a break after a hectic few weeks, while Prost sent some of its crew back to Europe to help with the factory move currently going on, as departments transfer from Magny-Cours to the new base at Guyancourt.

Prost, incidentally, has not yet started work on building a new windtunnel at the Guyancourt site and we hear that the idea may be shelved because of cost. The plan seems to be to build a rolling-road for one of the half-scale windtunnels at the nearby St. Cyr military school. The tunnel in Magny-Cours will remain active until after this is finished as the team wants to use the old tunnel to verify results from any new facility to ensure that the new windtunnel is accurate.