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AUGUST 14, 2001

High downforce makes high demands for F1 teams in Hungary

THERE could hardly be a greater contrast between Hockenheim and Hungaroring as opposite ends of the F1 technical spectrum from the standpoint of car set-up. This weekend the Hungarian GP produces one of the most complex technical challenges of the year and for the past three weeks, while ostensibly enjoying a well earned break, most F1 teams have been working flat out to make sure they are in a strong position for the 13th round of the Championship.

Interestingly, the only two teams who don't seem unduly worried about the high downforce demands of the Hungaroring are Ferrari and McLaren. This week the Maranello squad went testing its launch control systems with Luca Badoer at Fiorano, and in order not to exceed the 50km limit imposed by the FIA - as soon as his car was moving, he switched off the engine and was towed back to the pits. Thus he managed many practice starts but only 10km of actual testing.

The McLaren-Mercedes used at least part of the three week break since Hockenheim analyzing the causes of the engine failures which sidelined Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard from the German Grand Prix. "These were identified as oil pump drive failures caused by a manufacturing fault," said McLaren International Managing Director Martin Whitmarsh.

Most of the workforce had a long weekend off in the middle of the break before work began on preparing the trio of MP4/16s for this weekend's race. The team also started concentrating seriously on the configuration of next year's car during this extended gap between races.

Meanwhile, over at Williams the team expects to be struggling slightly for downforce this weekend, although if the temperatures are as high as expected the Michelin rubber may prove a major plus point. "We've got nothing special at all for Hungaroring," said a team spokesman this week, "other than efforts to optimize the car for a circuit which might not be so user friendly towards us as some others on the calendar."

Major behind-the-scenes changes took place at Jordan as negotiations for Jean Alesi's race debut for the team were finalized over the last ten days. The 37-year old Frenchman was due to have his first run in a Jordan-Honda EJ-11 at Silverstone on Monday 13 August within the prescribed shakedown limits which impose a maximum of 50 miles.

The Benetton Renault squad is determined to build on its promising Hockenheim result, where Giancarlo Fisichella and Jenson Button took fourth and fifth places, and to that end the B201s will be fitted with a heavily revised aerodynamic package in Hungary.

"This is a substantial aero update center round a totally new front wing," said Technical Director Mike Gascoyne who confirmed that the package of modifications would be checked out at a Silverstone shakedown this coming Thursday.

Jaguar Racing spent the break preparing for Hungaroring which the team believes should offer its best chance of finishing in the points since Monaco. "High downforce tracks are the best for us," said a Jaguar Racing spokesperson. "Our car doesn't seem to like really high speed corners, which will make Spa and Suzuka in particular quite difficult for us."

With the test ban in force since Hockenheim, the team's running has been confined to the Silverstone pit lane where last week Jaguar Racing was making a documentary on refuelling stops on behalf of Texaco, their fuel sponsor.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen tried the Prost AP04 at Magny-Cours last Friday where, in order to remain under the 50km limit, the team combined both the GP circuit and the school circuit. Frentzen had to cope with a new car, new engine, new tires and different controls on the steering wheel, but at the end of the trouble-free test he began applying minor changes to the set-up.

During the three week break Prost has rebuilt the car which Luciano Burti crashed at Hockenheim and will use an evolution of its high downforce aero package this weekend.