MARCH 17, 1997

F1 teams race home to test

DAMON HILL may not have had a very successful time at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne but he won the race to be the first driver to be out testing in Europe after the event.

Team boss Tom Walkinshaw made testing "top priority" after the disastrous goings-on in Melbourne, where Hill qualified a miserable 20th on the grid and Pedro Diniz was only allowed to start the race after the FIA stewards agreed that he had failed to qualify within the 107% rule because of "exceptional circumstances".

Damon flew back from Australia and on Thursday morning began work at Silverstone in an Arrows-Yamaha A18, completing 52 laps testing development parts and continuing his engine-mapping work. The Arrows test team under Ken Sibley then packed up and headed off to Paul Ricard in the south of France, where the testing work began on Sunday. Paul Ricard has only recently won FIA clearance to be used for testing. Hill is due to test today and tomorrow before handing over to PedroÊDiniz on Tuesday.

Arrows will be sharing the circuit with the Williams test team, which will be running both Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jacques Villeneuve. The pair are expected to concentrate on testing new brakes and on developing a power-steering system, in addition to doing engine development work for Renault.

Ferrari began testing at Fiorano on Wednesday with test driver Gianni Morbidelli doing two days and 144 laps while working on a brake development program and trials of the 046/2 engine. On the first day of the test an evolution version of the new V10 blew up. Michael Schumacher began testing on Friday and quickly set a new unofficial track record of 59.54secs, beating Irvine's 59.77s, using a similar engine to the one he raced in Melbourne. During the test he tried a couple of new Goodyear compounds and expressed his satisfaction with the work being done by the American tire company. The team is due to run this week at Monza where the team will be joined by Minardi.

The Sauber team is not planning to test between Australia and the two South American races, having decided that the car is working sufficiently well that it is best not to try to do too much and so be better prepared for Brazil and Argentina. The team's testing program will, therefore, not begin until just before the start of the European F1 season.

All the other F1 teams will be at Silverstone this week with McLaren running a car for David Coulthard, Benetton running both Gerhard Berger and Jean Alesi, Jordan running Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella and Tyrrell running JosÊVerstappen, Mika Salo and Toranosuke Takagi.

In addition, Prost Grand Prost is bringing its car to Britain to get some more mileage after the team's promising start to the year in Melbourne.

The Mastercard Lola team - which needs to find over five seconds a lap just to make the 107% qualifying limit - will be running both Vincenzo Sospiri and Ricardo Rosset at Silverstone. The team says that it does not have any development bits for the test and is hoping to gain a lot of time simply by giving the drivers the chance to get to know the machinery better and to work on set-up.