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Schumacher sets the pace in Barcelona

MICHAEL SCHUMACHER gave himself and Ferrari a psychological boost by setting the fastest times during last week's three days of testing at Barcelona. The German was trying a series of set-ups and tires in preparation for the Japanese Grand Prix at which he hopes to be able to snatch the World Championship from Mika Hakkinen.

With Eddie Irvine out of action because of illness, the second Ferrari was handled by the team's test driver Luca Badoer. Schumacher had several incidents in the course of his 260 laps of the track, which culminated in a best lap of 1m21.93s. Badoer did only 140 laps, his best time being a 1m23.944s.

The team then packed up and headed back to base with the intention of testing for six days this week at Fiorano before moving on for more tests at Mugello in mid-October.

McLaren split its efforts with tests going on at both Barcelona and Magny-Cours. The French test saw Mika Hakkinen working on a flooded track, trying to develop Bridgestone's wet tires as it is quite likely that the weather in Suzuka will not be very good and recent wet races have not seen the Japanese tires competitive with the Goodyears. The team gave no details of Hakkinen's times.

At Barcelona David Coulthard hammered away by himself on all three days, using two different cars to complete 300 laps in total with a best of 1m22.03s on the final day of the test. Coulthard's primary aim was to try out modifications for the car for the Japanese GP.

The Stewart team enjoyed a useful test with Rubens Barrichello completing 175 laps with a best lap of 1m22.71s, which was the third fastest lap of the test. The team is expecting to test again in mid-October with the newly-crowned British Formula 3 Champion Mario Haberfeld expected to drive alongside Barrichello.

Benetton had two cars on all three days of the test with Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz concentrating on the Bridgestone tire development program. Fisichella completed 195 laps with a best of 1m23.13s - the fourth fastest time of the test - while Wurz did 200 laps with a best of 1m23.71s.

The Jordan team turned up for only two of the three days and had Damon Hill testing on both days. Damon completed 100 laps with a best of 1m23.43s working on bodywork modifications and a tire evaluating test.

The British American Racing test team had its first proper test run with Jean-Christophe Boullion at the wheel and the Frenchman managed to complete a total of 130 laps in the course of his three days of running. After doing systems checks and engine-mapping runs the team set out to do some qualifying runs on the final day and the best time was a 1m23.49s. Boullion reckoned that the Tyrrell chassis mated to a Mecachrome engine was a good package. While the time was faster than those achieved by both Williams and Sauber it remains to be seen whether the new team can do as well when everyone is going for fast times. As a PR exercise, however, it was a success - which is exactly what BAR was hoping it would be.

Williams ran on all three days of the test, giving CART star Alex Zanardi his first runs in an F1 car for four years. The Italian completed 127 laps in his day and a half of running and set a best time of 1m24.432s.

Zanardi admitted that he needed more time to get used to the semi-automatic gearbox, the left-foot braking and the grooved tires but was happy to get to know some of the Williams engineers. He then flew off to Houston for the CART race.

Juan-Pablo Montoya was in action on the first two days of the test and completed 95 laps with a best of 1m24.369s. The Williams team's second test driver Max Wilson took over from Zanardi on Wednesday afternoon and continued to the end of Thursday, completing 100 laps with a best of 1m23.803s.

Sauber was present on all three days of the test, but packed up midway through Thursday. Jorg Muller did all the driving, concentrating on developments intended for next year's car. The German completed a total of 185 laps with a best of 1m23.945s.

Prost Grand Prix decided to have a short rest and concentrate all its energies on the preparation of the interim Prost Peugeot AP01 which will be seen running later this month and will feature several systems which will be integrated into the 1999 design.

Arrows was also not in action but intends to run a big test at Silverstone in mid-October.

Minardi stayed home in Italy, preferring to concentrate its efforts on the production of the new M01 chassis which the team hopes to have testing before Christmas. Giancarlo Minardi and Esteban Tuero flew to Argentina to sign new sponsorship deals for the year ahead.

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