FEBRUARY 5, 1996

Hakkinen tests at Ricard

MIKA HAKKINEN secretly tested a McLaren-Mercedes MP4/10 at Paul Ricard over the weekend - although the team made sure that reporters were not allowed in to watch the Finn's performance.

Hakkinen had not sat in an F1 car since his accident in Adelaide in November which left him with serious head injuries. McLaren has remained tight-lipped about Hakkinen's condition, insisting that there is no problem in his recovery, but there have been many rumors suggesting that Mika still has difficulties. The Finn, who has been in Bali in recent weeks getting fit, is keen to know if the crash has affected him either physically or mentally.

If the team reckons that Mika is fit enough he will drive this year, but if not McLaren test driver Jan Magnussen will take his place.

Although McLaren is very keen to be optimistic - the loss of Hakkinen would be a big blow to the team's 1996 plans - there are very few cases in motor racing where a driver has returned to competition without any side-effects after a serious head injury. Many have come back to racing - but most find that they have lost a little of their speed.

Stirling Moss was never the same after his accident at Goodwood in 1962, and Vittorio Brambilla never really got over the head injuries he received at Monza in 1978. Indycar driver Roberto Guerrero and Karl Wendlinger have both returned from head injuries but neither has been quite as competitive as previously.

NASCAR's Ernie Irvan, however, recently returned to Winston Cup racing after a nasty head injury and showed well.

The new McLaren MP4/11 will run at Estoril at the end of this week but will begin serious testing in Portugal on February 17.