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MARCH 6, 2000

Button tops in final Silverstone test

THERE was final shakedown testing at various tracks around Europe last week before the Formula 1 teams packed up their 2000 challengers are they were sent off to Australia for the opening round of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship this weekend in Melbourne.

The two-day Silverstone test took place in relatively good weather although there was a little rain on the first morning. Jenson Button, back in action after his recent back injury, was fastest in the testing after 65 laps in his Williams-BMW FW22 with a best time of 1m26.385s. Button's best lap was achieved without a full load of fuel as the young English driver tried his hand at the car in qualifying trim. He was nearly a second faster than the nearest challenger, David Coulthard in a McLaren-Mercedes MP4/14. He did only one day of running but the McLaren was giving nothing away and after 45 laps Coulthard was content to record a 1m27.232s lap.

Third fastest after two days of running was Jordan's Jarno Trulli, the Italian completing a total of 75 laps with a best of 1m27.465s. Heinz-Harald Frentzen also showed up at the test but he did only 12 laps and recorded a best of 1m28.795s.

British American Racing shook down three cars on the same day with Ricardo Zonta and Patrick Lemarie in action at Silverstone and Jacques Villeneuve in action at the Santa Pod drag racing strip. The Canadian appears to have been trying out his starts. Zonta completed a total of only 14 laps while Lemarie did 43. The Brazilian's best lap was a 1m27.736s while Lemarie did no better than 1m31.712s.

Arrows ran a car in its new orange livery (without sponsorship) for Pedro de la Rosa and the Spaniard did only one day of running during which he completed 30 laps with a best of 1m28.139s.

The Jaguar Racing team was not trying for lap times and ran Luciano Burti for two days, the Brazilian completing a total of 72 laps with a best of 1m28.520s.

Prost Grand Prix turned up to try to get some more laps on the under-developed Prost-Peugeot AP03 chassis and NickÊHeidfeld emerged a lot happier after 35 laps and a best lap of 1m29.009s. The team is still expected to struggle in Australia.

Bringing up the rear on this occasion were the two Benetton B200s of Alexander Wurz and Giancarlo Fisichella. The Austrian completed 37 laps with a best lap of 1m38.996s while Fisichella's best was a 1m39.764s after 25 laps. The Benetton team spent a lot of time concentrating on its pit stops with around 50 practice stops.

Down in Italy, Minardi was running for two days at Mugello with both Marc Gene and Gaston Mazzacane in action. Ferrari was busy at Fiorano with Michael Schumacher completing 20 laps, Rubens Barrichello doing 50 laps and Luca Badoer doing the final shakedown runs on Friday before the cars were packed up and despatched to Australia from Milan on Saturday. Also in action at the Ferrari test track was the Sauber team with Mika Salo back in action. The Finn missed the last major test because of damage to a bone in his hand but he was back up to speed and completed 20 laps as he shook down the third Sauber chassis.