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FEBRUARY 24, 1997

Williams blitzes Estoril record

JACQUES VILLENEUVE finished a five day test at Estoril last week setting a best lap of 1m18.37s, a second and a half faster than Ferrari and McLaren had managed the previous week and two full seconds faster than Damon Hill's pole position lap of 1m20.330s at the Portuguese GP in September. The French-Canadian completed 650 miles of running without any major dramas, setting his time in a shoot-out with the Benettons on Tuesday evening. Heinz-Harald Frentzen completed 680 miles with a best lap of 1m18.69s on Wednesday, although there is little doubt that the German could have gone quicker.

As a result, Frentzen's best lap was beaten by Benetton driver Gerhard Berger, who ran on all six days of the test, completing 645 miles and recording a best of 1m18.65s on Tuesday evening. Jean Alesi ran for five days but managed only 440 miles and a best of 1m18.76s.

Jordan drivers Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella were busy all week completing a total of 1000 miles of running between them despite some problems with engine ancillaries and clutches. Schumacher's best lap was a 1m19.76s on Tuesday afternoon while Fisichella's best lap was set on Monday when he recorded a 1m19.96s despite having to dodge a stray dog which had wandered onto the race track.

Minardi ran one car for six days with Ukyo Katayama getting four days of running and F1 new boy Jarno Trulli being given two days. Katayama recorded a best lap of 1m20.44s after 320 miles; while Trulli's best was 1m24.08s after 210 miles. The team's test driver Tarso Marques was unable to test because of a clutch problem on the final day of the test.

The Stewart team stopped testing after Jan Magnussen's accident last weekend and returned to England.

Tyrrell canceled its plans to join the Estoril test because of the Spanish truck strike and ran at Silverstone instead. The weather was dreadful with high winds and rain but the team ran 200 laps with Jos Verstappen setting a slightly faster time than Mika Salo.

Arrows was also at Silverstone, Damon Hill completing a few laps without drama, although the test was not much use to anybody as it was too cold for the Bridgestone tires to be brought up to temperature.