McLaren on top in Barcelona

FEBRUARY 16, 1998

McLaren on top in Barcelona

THE McLaren team dominated last week's Barcelona Formula 1 testing with the brand new McLaren-Mercedes MP4/13 with Mika Hakkinen quickest and David Coulthard setting the third fastest time in the course of the three-day test. Hakkinen's best lap was a 1m21.88s which was considerably faster than the 1m23.40s lap achieved by Heinz-Harald Frentzen the previous week in the new Williams FW20. While this is an encouraging result for McLaren one should not read too much into the times as conditions were very different and there is no evidence to suggest that Williams was trying to set fast times.

It should be remembered that in recent years McLaren has not been averse to a little bit of gamesmanship and regularly produces pre-season testing times which seem to suggest it will dominate the World Championship. Last year, for example, Hakkinen went round Barcelona 0.68s faster than anyone during winter testing but them struggled to be competitive for the rest of the season.

David Coulthard missed out on the first day of the test because of food poisoning. He was better on the Thursday but his progress was delayed again when Hakkinen went off in the only MP4/13 which is currently finished. On Friday David lapped the track in 1m22.47s but ended his test in a tire barrier.

Williams was not present at the Barcelona test, preferring to spend its time in a very private test, away from the glare of publicity, at Paul Ricard. The team is refusing to reveal details of the test but it involved Jacques Villeneuve, Heinz-HaraldÊFrentzen and test driver Juan-Pablo Montoya. No times were recorded by observers as it was unclear which point of the circuit the team was using as the start-finish line. This is typical Williams behavior, the team preferring to keep the true level of its performance a secret until the first race.

Benetton was back in Spain with Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz each doing a day and a half of testing. Fisichella set a best lap of 1m21.98s but the team concentrated on its other development programs, rather than going for fast times and by the end of the test the team reported that it has now completed 3100 miles of running with the B198. Wurz lost time because of some foggy weather but recorded a best lap of 1m23.73s.

The biggest surprise of the test was the performance of Toranosuke Takagi in the Tyrrell, the young Japanese driver setting a best lap of 1m23.12s during his two days of running. He then handed over the car to Tyrrell's new signing Ricardo Rosset who completed 43 laps on Friday with a best of 1m25.12s. The times are not hugely relevant as few of the teams seem to have been trying to set good lap times.

Ralf Schumacher recorded a best of 1m23.69s during his three days of testing while Jordan concentrated on putting as many miles as possible on the new 198 chassis. The two drivers completed over 100 laps apiece, the only problem being an engine failure for Damon Hill on the second day of the test.

Prost spent all three days developing the AP01 with Trulli doing 36 laps on the first day and then handing over the car to Olivier Panis on Thursday and Friday. Panis's best time was a 1m24.08s.

Stewart Grand Prix got down to some serious running at last with Jan Magnussen completing 28 laps on Wednesday and Barrichello adding another 41 the following day. The team then packed up and went back to England, Jackie Stewart later admitting that the team is a little behind with its development work.

Minardi continued its development program with Esteban Tuero doing the first day and a half of the test as he continued to rack up the laps necessary to qualify for an FIA superlicence. Shinji Nakano then took over and set a best lap of 1m25.46s.

Arrows was present with the new A19 and Pedro Diniz did the first two days of the test, losing time on Thursday with electrical and clutch problems. He then handed the car over to Mika Salo on the final day of the test. Arrows will unveil its full 1998 package on Tuesday at the team's Leafield base and will then get down to more testing at Silverstone.

Sauber stayed at home in Switzerland last week, getting the Sauber Petronas C17 through all the necessary crash-testing, having been nearly unable to race last year in Melbourne because the crash-tests had not all been completed. The team also finished off its second chassis and will run a two-car test at Barcelona this week.

The other team missing from Barcelona was Ferrari which has now given up the idea of any more testing in Spain and is staying in Italy, working at the Ferrari test tracks at Fiorano and Mugello. The team has now completed two F300 chassis and these are now running reliably with the team having done a total of 1900 miles with the car. Schumacher spent the weekend at Mugello as the development continues, while at the team's base in Maranello, work is pushing ahead to finish off a revised rear end for the car, the original layout having been scrapped because of disastrous overheating problems. The team hopes to have the new layout ready and tested in time for the Australian GP in Melbourne.

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