DECEMBER 18, 1995
Hill quickest at Estoril
DAMON HILL returned to testing at Estoril last week after a month's vacation and quickly gave signs that he intends to be challenging for the World Championship in 1996.
Damon missed the first day of the Estoril test, stranded at Heathrow Airport in London by bad weather, but was quickly up to speed. On the fourth day of the test he set a best lap of 1m19.95s, well below David Coulthard's pole position time at the Portuguese GP in September. His 1996 Williams-Renault team mate Jacques Villeneuve was second fastest with a best lap of 1m20.75s. The French-Canadian had his first big crash in F1 in wet conditions on the second day of the test but bounced back to set the fastest time on Day Three. The Williams team was busy testing parts of the 1996 car on the 1995 chassis.
Michael Schumacher did the first four days of the five-day test, recording a best lap of 1m21.33s. The World Champion, who had John Barnard working with him all week, said he was impressed by the progress made with the V10 engine since his first tests with the new engine a couple of weeks ago. Schumacher's team mate Eddie Irvine tested all week, recording a best lap of 1m21.68s on Friday, the fifth fastest time of the week.
The Ferrari pair were split by Jean Alesi's Benetton. The Frenchman did only a handful of laps in the wet on Tuesday and then flew off to Paris to have dinner with French President Jacques Chirac. He returned on Wednesday and set his fastest time - a lap of 1m21.54s - in good conditions on Thursday. Gerhard Berger continued to struggle with the handling of the Benetton and crashed heavily on Wednesday morning - his second big accident in a Benetton-Renault within 10 days. Gerhard ended up eighth fastest overall with a best lap - set on Thursday - of 1m22.46s.
Sixth fastest was Rubens Barrichello in his Jordan-Peugeot with a best lap of 1m21.81s. It was a disappointing test for the team because of a string of engine problems. Barrichello flew off to Brazil at lunch time on Thursday, handing over the team's two cars to Frenchman Emmanuel Collard and Italian Fabrizio de Simone.
Collard completed 69 laps in his day and a half of testing recording a best lap of 1m23.59s on Friday, while de Simone - who is the son of the boss of Jordan sponsor Uliveto - concentrated on endurance testing, completing 99 laps with a best time of 1m25.00s. On Friday night Jordan packed up and headed south to Jerez where the team will run this week - with Martin Brundle having his first runs for the team.
The only other team at Estoril was Arrows, which had Jos Verstappen testing from Tuesday to Friday. The young Dutchman - who did his first F1 tests with Arrows in the autumn of 1993 - recorded a best lap of 1m21.94s, which highlights what the Dutchman might have achieved in an Arrows this year. At the Portuguese GP in September Taki Inoue was 19th on the grid with a best lap of 1m24.883s. Verstappen's lap last week would have qualified him fourth on the grid at the Grand Prix and, even allowing for the development of the car and better track conditions, this was still a very strong performance from Jos.