Trulli sets the pace in Spain

THE final day of testing in Barcelona produced a surprise result as Prost Grand Prix's Jarno Trulli set the fastest time of the winter, stopping the clocks at 1m21.09s - a few hundredths of a second faster than Mika Hakkinen's best lap the previous week.

It is interesting to note that despite the FIA's intention to slow lap times with the new tire regulations, Trulli's lap was around 0.4s faster than Mika Hakkinen's best lap in the winter of 1997-98. Clearly the governing body will have to come up with more rule changes for the 2000 season if it wishes to keep the cars from lapping the tracks too quickly.

The Prost team - which has done a considerable amount of testing this winter - completed another 750 miles last week thanks largely to the fact that it had two cars available for the first time. This allowed Trulli to do his own set-up work for the first time as up to now he has been running with Olivier Panis's settings to help the team learn about the new AP02.

The test was not without difficulties and Trulli missed the whole of the second day because of a rear wing problem. He then had to put up with engine problems on Friday which meant that he managed only 15 laps. But on Saturday the car was running well and he completed a total of 50 laps and set his impressive lap time.

We will have to wait until qualifying in Melbourne to see whether the time is significant - teams do not have to run their cars in legal configuration at tests - but there is no question that it provided the Prost team will a welcome boost after months of hard work after the disastrous 1998 season.

Olivier Panis ran his AP02 for the last three days of the Barcelona testing, completing 160 laps and setting a best lap of 1m21.63s. He could probably have gone quicker and is delighted with the car which, he says, inspires confidence.

But if Prost took most of the limelight, there was another big surprise with Stewart setting the second fastest time of the test. Rubens Barrichello recorded a time which was just a few hundredths slower than Trulli. The team's early testing with the new Ford V10 engine was ruined by reliability problems but development work at Cosworth seems to have solved these dramas and the Stewart team turned up for two days with three cars. Unfortunately on the second day Johnny Herbert had a sizeable accident with one of the cars (see following story).

In his two days of running Barrichello completed 55 laps with a best of 1m21.14s, while Johnny Herbert's test was interrupted after 47 laps with his accident. His best time was a 1m23.22s.

McLaren has dominated most of the recent testing and although Mika Hakkinen ended up the third fastest time of the week, the impression was that the McLaren could have gone a little quicker than his times at the end of the week suggested.

Hakkinen's quickest lap - a 1m21.217s - was set late last Sunday at the end of the first test. Hakkinen and David Coulthard were back in action again on Wednesday and added another 283 laps to the 85 they had done over the weekend, bringing the team's total for the week to 368 laps - nearly 1,100 miles. Coulthard was the faster of the two in the second part of the test with a best of 1m21.44s, while Hakkinen managed only 1m22.00s.

Jordan Grand Prix was also working on reliability testing and at the end of its four-day test had completed a remarkable 415 laps (1,225 miles) with two cars. Heinz-Harald Frentzen completed 250 laps in his 199 and set a best lap of 1m21.34s, while Damon Hill did fewer laps but was still able to turn in a fastest lap of 1m21.54s.

Ferrari was not present for the main part of the test, but Michael Schumacher finished off the team's first Barcelona test last Sunday by setting a best lap of 1m21.690s after 125 laps. The team decided to work at Mugello for the rest of the week.

Sauber did not appear until midweek and had only one car available for Jean Alesi and Pedro Diniz. Alesi ran on the first two days and completed around 100 laps with a best lap of 1m21.71s on Wednesday. Pedro Diniz then took over and did the same number of laps, getting down to a 1m22.59s.

Benetton finished off its testing at Barcelona last Sunday, Giancarlo Fisichella having run a total of 93 laps during the weekend test - with a best of 1m22.011s. The team then went to Silverstone later in the week with Alexander Wurz driving.

Also missing the action in Barcelona were Williams and British American Racing. They finished testing at Kyalami on Wednesday and headed home. Both teams are expected to be seen at Silverstone for final shakedown tests this week.

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