Atlas F1 It's up to Eddie

August 17th-20th Test Times Analysis by Michele Lupini, South Africa

Now that Michael Schumacher has been confirmed as a non-starter in this weekend's Belgian GP at Spa Francorchamps, the race takes on a definite character. The Ferrari star surprised the world by arriving at Mugello last week, running on race trim a handful of laps and ending up quickest of his teammates.

But although he reported only a little discomfort in his hurt leg over the bumps at the company's circuit in the hills between Bologna and Florence, Michael has experienced pain in his ankle since. That prompted his doctors to recommend he take it easy to allow a full recovery. And that, in turn, has ended any speculation of his premature return and allows the intriguing 1999 world title chase to continue as though it were a movie script.

It also allows Ferrari's championship leader, Eddie Irvine's title aspirations continue on course - without the added worry of having to contend also with the presence of Schumacher who would have still been within striking distance of both Irvine and Ferrari's chief rival, Mika Hakkinen in the title chase.

But Hakkinen and his McLaren-Mercedes loom large in Eddie and Ferrari's championship mirrors, and the Irishman should now seriously get down to the business of working on his championship lead. Hopefully, he will have the full assistance, once again, of Mika Salo, after the Finn's dreadful weekend in Hungary. He looked good in testing and Ferrari simply cannot risk another poor showing. Salo's form at Hockenheim was brilliant though, and he loves the Spa.

The championship is poised on a knife's edge, and Irvine's proven that it doesn't matter if the Big Macs are in a class of their own in pure speed. The canny crew at Ferrari are famous for their tactical masterstrokes, and Spa's a place that could suit such skulduggery. McLaren, though, are hard to beat on their day and must still have the edge in the bookie's odds.

Behind the top men, it's also most interesting. David Coulthard and the ever-consistent Heinz-Harald Frentzen still cannot be ruled out as title candidates. The Jordan lot must be quietly hoping for a repeat of last year's glory at Spa, while Coulthard can still redeem himself as McLaren's eternal bridesmaid, although his last year's Spa controversy must be well up on his mind this weekend.

Looking back at last week's testing times at Silverstone suggests the inevitable McLaren-Ferrari duel, Hakkinen fastest lap there again quickest of all and matching Ferrari's pace at Mugello relative to the quickest times of the year so far at the respective circuits.

Both Stewarts continued their good testing form in England. The team must be frustrated that their true potential is not reflected in the championship log. Pedro Diniz also emerged from testing looking good again in the Sauber. The underrated Brazilian would be justified of a podium finish before the end of the year.

The Supertec mob were evenly matched at Silverstone, with another mathematical title hopeful, reliable Ralf Schumacher leading Williams teammate Zanardi, Villeneuve's BAR and Wurz in the Benetton, all within a half a second of each other. Next came Frentzen, who's proven that lacklustre testing times do not mean too much to his race pace the following weekend, from de la Rosa, Panis and Takagi.

1999's dream F1 season is bound to continue as it has so far. There have been boring races that have contributed to the overall picture, but Spa promises once again to be a cracker, which could well deal up a surprise result to add even more spice to a season of intrigue.

Test Times Summary

Silverstone F1 Testing

Pos  Driver        Best      17       18       19 Aug.
 1.  Hakkinen      1:26.016  1:29.52  1:28.06  1:26.02
 2.  Barrichello   1:26.108   -        -       1:26.11
 3.  Herbert       1:26.111   -       1:28.55  1:26.11
 4.  Diniz         1:26.926  1:31.47  1:29.78  1:26.93
 5.  R.Schumacher  1:27.043   -       1:29.11  1:27.04
 6.  Zanardi       1:27.165   -       1:29.02  1:27.17
 7.  Villeneuve    1:27.326   -       1:30.28  1:27.33
 8.  Wurz          1:27.589  1:41.71  1:30.85  1:27.59
 9.  Frentzen      1:27.827   -       1:29.14  1:27.83
10.  de la Rosa    1:28.789   -        -       1:28.79
11.  Zonta         1:29.356   -        -       1:29.36
12.  Panis         1:30.377  1:30.71  1:30.38   -     
13.  Takagi        1:32.004   -       1:32.00         

Track length: 5.140 km
'99 pole: M. Hakkinen (McLaren) 1:24.804
'99 fastest testing time: G. Fisichella (Benetton) 1:25.670

Mugello F1 Testing

Pos  Driver        Best      18       19       20 Aug.
 1.  M.Schumacher  1.28.379   -        -       1.28.38
 2.  Irvine        1.28.648   -       1.28.94  1.28.64
 3.  Salo          1.28.705  1.30.64  1.28.70   -     

'99 fastest testing time: M. Schumacher (Ferrari)  1.26.743

The Test Times Summary only includes drivers who are participating in the 1999 F1 World Championship and therefore does not include test drivers. For a full test times summary and previous test times set this year, visit Atlas F1's 1999 Testing section

Michele Lupini© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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