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Suzuka tire testing

TEN of the 11 Formula 1 teams stayed on at Suzuka last week to take part in the first test of Bridgestone's 1999 tires which feature four grooves in the front tires rather than three as is the case this year. The tires are also made of compounds which are a lot harder than the existing tires as Bridgestone will be the only tire supplier in F1 next year and does not have to worry about competition.

It was interesting that for the Suzuka test McLaren, Benetton and Ferrari all ran development rubber while the other teams - including Williams and Jordan - had to make do with three sets of control rubber. It was no surprise to see David Coulthard fastest over the two days of running. The Scotsman completed 140 laps of the track with a best time of 1m39.69s, compared to the team's best time in qualifying for the race of 1m36.47s. Coulthard was not, however, impressed by the tires. "This will ruin Formula 1," he said. "The tires make very little difference to the straight line speed, but give much less grip in the high speed corners. Today has been my least enjoyable day of the season." Coulthard was the only McLaren driver present, World Champion Mika Hakkinen having flown to England to visit the staff at McLaren's Woking headquarters.

Second fastest of the test was Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari, the German completing 100 laps with a best time of 1m40.83s. Schumacher said that the fourth groove made little difference.

Benetton was the only team to have two cars running at Suzuka and the two drivers completed 170 laps between them with Giancarlo Fisichella setting a best of 1m40.93s and Alexander Wurz getting down to 1m41.15s.

Williams ran Ralf Schumacher for the first time but the German was only able to complete 64 laps because of the restricted tire supply and set a best of 1m42.82s. Jordan ran Damon Hill on the first day but he then handed over the car to new team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The pair completed 52 laps each with Frentzen setting a 1m43.00s and Hill lapping in 1m43.50s.

Prost Grand Prix ran Jarno Trulli but he did only 64 laps in the course of the two days with a best of 1m43.69s. Sauber ran only Jean Alesi, the Frenchman completing 43 laps with a best of 1m43.82s. Tyrrell ran one car for the first day of the test, using up engine mileage, and Tora Takagi was able to complete 58 laps, setting a best of 1m44.015s while Rubens Barrichello stayed on for Stewart doing 70 laps with a best of 1m44.70s. Minardi ran local hero Shinji Nakano for 75 laps with a best time of 1m44.88s. The Arrows team did not stay behind for the test, preferring to head for home and save money.

The testing was watched by around 5000 Japanese fans.

Teams will not now be allowed to do any testing for the next three weeks but work should begin again in Barcelona in the first week of December. By then we expect there to be clear-cut rules on the number of sets of tires which each team will be allowed to use.

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