Alesi tops Magny-Cours testing

LOCAL hero Jean Alesi gave French fans something to dream about last week when he set the fastest lap of the four days of testing at Magny-Cours in his Sauber Petronas. Johnny Herbert confirmed the improving speed of the Swiss cars with the fourth fastest time with a time that was just a tenth slower than Alesi.

Jean began his test on Tuesday with test driver Jorg Muller running the second car. Alesi developed a new long wheelbase Sauber and Muller did differential work. Jorg's progress was delayed by an engine failure but he still managed around 100 laps with a presentable best lap of 1m18.90s. Alesi then switched to the differential work while Herbert took over the long wheelbase car. At the end of his three days of running Alesi had done 88 laps with a best on Wednesday of 1m17.16s while Herbert did 115 laps in his two days and recorded 1m17.28s on the last day. Herbert then went on to test at Lurcy Levis on Saturday.

A couple of hundredths slower than Alesi was Mika Hakkinen in his McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13, the Finn running on all four days, completing 182 laps with a best laps of 1m17.19s set on Tuesday. He crashed on Wednesday and damaged his car but otherwise had a successful test, which included tire development, brake and chassis work. David Coulthard was also in action on all four days and completed a mammoth 300 laps of the track with a best on Wednesday of 1m17.57s.

Third fastest was Benetton's Alexander Wurz, who also ran on all four days, working on tire and suspension development. He completed a total of 144 laps with a best of 1m17.27s on Wednesday but lost some time the next day because of an engine failure. Giancarlo Fisichella also ran on all four days, completing 130 laps despite doing almost no running on Wednesday because of a muscle strain. His best lap was a 1m18.34s on the first day of the test.

Ferrari was also in action on all four days with Michael Schumacher completing 185 laps, doing tire and chassis development. His best lap was a 1m17.61s on Wednesday but the last two days of the test were spoiled by incidents. On Thursday he spun off after a tire deflation caused by debris and on Friday he had a big crash and damaged the car beyond repair. Eddie Irvine ran the first three days of the test completing 115 laps with a best of 1m17.74s.

The Jordan team ran for only three days with Ralf Schumacher and Damon Hill in action on each day as they worked on tire and engine development. Schumacher suffered a big crash on Thursday which left him bruised and with a headache. The car was repaired in the afternoon so he could do some much-needed practice starts. In the course of the three days Ralf completed 133 laps with a best of 1m17.81s while Hill did 180 laps with a best of 1m18.61s.

Williams ran Heinz-Harald Frentzen by himself on Tuesday and Wednesday, the German doing Goodyear tire development and trying to find a good set-up. He completed 57 laps with a best of 1m17.89s before taking a day off. He was back in action on Friday but did only 20 laps before his big accident.

Jacques Villeneuve ran on Thursday and Friday and completed 80 laps with a best of 1m18.30s, while test driver Juan-Pablo Montoya completed 60 laps on Thursday with a best of 1m19.01s.

Stewart Grand Prix began its French testing at Lurcy-Levis on Monday with Paul Stewart Racing Formula 3 driver Mario╩Haberfeld doing aerodynamic mapping runs. The team then switched to Magny-Cours where Rubens Barrichello was joined by Jos Verstappen, the two running a new long wheelbase Stewart and new front wings. Barrichello completed 110 laps with a best on Wednesday of 1m18.12s while Verstappen continued into Friday with a best of 1m19.69s after 100 laps.

The Prost team was busy on all four days of the test with a new long wheelbase car, new tires, a new engine and a brand new sixth chassis. Olivier Panis ran on all four days but had some gearbox trouble and so was restricted to 135 laps with a best of 1m18.66s on the final day of the test. Jarno Trulli did only the final two days of running and completed 60 laps but set a best on Friday of 1m18.42s.

Minardi had a new long wheelbase car and new front wings and began work on Tuesday with test driver Laurent Redon completing 54 laps with a best of 1m20.30s. He then handed the car over to Esteban Tuero who did 75 laps in the course of the next two days with a best of 1m20.37s. Shinji Nakano, who knew the circuit thanks to his time with Prost last year, joined the test on the final day and did 34 laps to record a best of 1m18.99s.

Arrows had more engine trouble but Mika Salo was able to do 50 laps in the course of the first two days - his best lap being a 1m19.19s - and then Pedro Diniz ran the same number of laps on Thursday and Friday with a best of 1m19.72s.

Slowest on this occasion was Tyrrell which ran fast man Tora Takagi on Tuesday only. The Japanese driver completed 28 laps with a best of 1m19.35s. Ricardo Rosset then took over on Wednesday and Thursday and completed 64 laps, setting a best of 1m19.40s, while Tom Kristensen used an older engine on Thursday in a second car on Thursday and completed 33 laps with a best of 1m19.92s.

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