McLaren dominates but Williams is ready

FEBRUARY 23, 1998

McLaren dominates but Williams is ready

MCLAREN continues to dominate testing in Barcelona with Mika Hakkinen last week setting the fastest lap time of the winter with a best lap of 1m21.45s in the course of last week's testing at the Spanish circuit. This beat the record established at the start of the week by his McLaren team mate David Coulthard, who lapped the track in 1m21.58s which was 0.3s faster than Hakkinen's best of the previous week.

McLaren had two of the new MP4/13s running and there was much optimism within the team, despite the fact that there has not been any head-to-head testing between McLaren, Williams and Ferrari. "It is still early days," said Mika Hakkinen. "We have not run with all the other top teams at the same place at the same time so I would not read too much into my times."

Sauber began a six-day two-car test on Sunday, February 15 and both Herbert and Alesi managed to complete a large numbers of laps despite a variety of problems, the most serious of which was a rear wing failure for Jean Alesi on Monday which seems to have been caused by excess vibration and some weak composite material. Herbert set a best time of 1m22.84s while Alesi did 1m23.19s.

Jordan started work on Wednesday and on the following day Ralf Schumacher set a best lap of 1m22.47s. Damon Hill was also in action, testing a modified front suspension and did a best lap of 1m24.12s although he was not going for times. Hill reported that good progress is being made with the Mugen Honda engine but the team has still not been able to get to the times set by McLaren.

Also in action in Barcelona was the Tyrrell team which continues to set fast times with the 026. Toranosuke Takagi set a fastest lap of 1m22.89s and the car proved to be very reliable over longer distances. The team's new signing Ricardo Rosset set a best of 1m24.70s but continued to get faster with each run.

Stewart was also in Spain, trying to catch up with its development program after weeks of problems with the gearbox. The team ran for three days with Jan Magnussen doing the first two and Rubens Barrichello taking over on the third day. The Brazilian set the fastest time of 1m25.49s which is well off the pace of the faster runners. The team has yet to do any running on light tanks but hopes to be able to do that at Silverstone this week.

Meanwhile up at Paul Ricard, Williams completed its long secret test at the French circuit during which both Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve are rumored to have got down into the 1m09s and the FW20 is proving to be both quick and reliable "The car is great," commented Villeneuve. "We are ready to take on everybody." Williams is to test for three days this week at Barcelona before the cars are returned to England to be prepared for the trip to Australia. The freight is due to depart from London on Friday, February 27.

Ferrari stayed in Italy with both Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine doing more miles with the F300 at Mugello. Despite the problems with the rear suspension the team is saying that the car will be very competitive in Australia.

Michael Schumacher says that he is happy with the car. "It is very much a racing car," he said. "It has that certain kind of nervousness that a racing car should have."

Schumacher completed full race distance testing during the week while Irvine was able to get his first run in the new car in dry conditions. The test concluded on Tuesday afternoon but a second test began on Friday. Schumacher drove on Friday but then handed over to Irvine on Saturday and Sunday. The team is due to have two cars running again at Mugello at the start of the week before preparations begin to ship the cars to Australia. Shakedown testing will take place at Fiorano.

Prost Grand Prix remained at home in Magny-Cours with Olivier Panis completing 100 laps as he worked on gearbox development. A second Prost chassis was completed on Friday with a third due this week. All three will be shaken down at Magny-Cours this week.

There was action at Silverstone as well as Arrows and Benetton continued their work. Benetton ran both Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz, the pair bedding in gearboxes and practising pit stops, while Arrows was also in action running three different chassis with Pedro Diniz and Mika Salo doing the driving. Both teams are due back at Silverstone this week for shakedown testing and are likely to be joined by several others.

Minardi did not run last week as Giancarlo Minardi and Esteban Tuero were on a promotional trip in South America. The team is due to launch its full package today in Bologna and will then go testing at Monza.

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