Atlas F1 McLaren's United Front

September 14th-17th Test Times Analysis by Michele Lupini, South Africa

While David Coulthard was a whisker faster than at Magny Cours' testing last week, the Scot will have to play second fiddle to his championship-leading McLaren teammate, Mika Hakkinen, from this point of the 1999 F1 World Championship onward. Despite Coulthard having the stronger second half of the season of the McLaren pair so far, his charge appears to have started too late.

Although he has apparently not yet been personally advised of his new orders, Coulthard is disappointed, but ready to give up his title aspirations to try to help Hakkinen to his second title. "This isn't something I would be happy with. I have a chance of winning the title because of Mika's reliability problems and mistakes," said David. "But I wouldn't be happy if another team's driver won the title, or a rival team the constructors' championship."

Whether this move by Ron Dennis is timeous enough to see McLaren win those vital titles, following the team's combination of bad luck, technical problems, driver errors and a previous lack of late-season team orders, remains to be seen.

McLaren, which is in a class of its own in pure speed, finds itself in a three-cornered fight for the drivers' and a two-way battle for the makers' championships, which it should have long wrapped up. While the big Macs were first and second quickest in France, the man who's been quietly positioning himself for what to some seems as a surprise title attack, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and the Jordan were third, only a tenth of a second behind.

But that Frentzen is in a position to steal the drivers' title is no surprise at all, the German has been brilliant all season. Jordan was optimistic after testing, having matched McLaren throughout the varying weather conditions at the French circuit, where, among other things, they tested some new Honda developments.

What's more, the real danger man to McLaren at this point, Eddie Irvine, who tested in isolation with teammate Mika Salo again at Ferrari's Mugello circuit, appears to be in a far stronger frame of mind than at recent races. The Ferrari star has been buoyed by the arrival of his new Ferrari chassis for this weekend. "I am satisfied. I have driven the best Ferrari I have experienced this season," said the Ulsterman, who could well take the No. 1 plate with him on transferring to Jaguar next year. The fresh monocoque, which replaces the one he's driven all season, also features some seemingly much-needed new components.

Irvine's Jaguar teammate in 2000, Johnny Herbert, looked after Stewart's testing programme in France, emerging satisfied with progress. "We improved the car in areas that cost us some performance at Monza," he said.

The Williams duo carried out an extensive test programme at Magny Cours, but feel that they need more time to be competitive away from super-fast circuits. Alex Zanardi admitting, "Magny-Cours is a high downforce circuit, I feel we have some work to do before we can perform well on this kind of track."

BAR, despite some positive propaganda during the week, continued much as they have all season, with both Jacques Villeneuve and Riccardo Zonta each requiring an engine change during their programmes and ending a second off the pace. But talk is cheap, they say, and unless BAR can prove their alleged progress with the type of decisive action we all want to see, it must be proving somewhat of a headache for its 2000 partners, Honda.

While Jordan, which is developing Honda's future engines and is contracted as the Japanese manufacturer's second-string team for 2000, entrenches itself as an integral part of F1's top three, BAR is currently established as part of F1's bottom three. Not a brilliant prospect for the once-dominant Honda after their hasty tie-up with BAR as their works team on that return...

Sauber were testing with Pedro Diniz, and Panis did duty for Prost, while Benetton, Arrows and Minardi stayed at home - Minardi negotiating its future in F1.

Nurburgring this weekend seems set to continue what's becoming a nail-biting climax to the 1999 F1 season. The status quo, it appears, will continue in Germany for the European Grand Prix. What every F1 fan will be hoping for, though, is that the battle, for once, can provide the level of entertainment the war is generating, rather than being just another follow-the-leader F1 procession we have been subjected to so often this year.

Test Times Summary

Magny-Cours F1 Testing

Pos  Driver        Best     14       15       16 Sept  
 1.  Coulthard     1:17.51  1:17.58  1:17.57  1:17.51  
 2.  Hakkinen      1:17.59   -       1:18.42  1:17.59  
 3.  Frentzen      1:17.64   -       1:18.37  1:17.64  
 4.  Herbert       1:17.76   -       1:19.72  1:17.76  
 5.  R.Schumacher  1:18.05  1:18.37  1:18.05   -       
 6.  Villeneuve    1:18.43   -        -       1:18.43  
 7.  Panis         1:18.48  1:19.65  1:19.52  1:18.48  
 8.  Zanardi       1:18.90   -        -       1:18.90  
 9.  Diniz         1:19.02  1:19.58  1:19.31  1:19.02  
10.  Zonta         1:20.38   -       1:20.38   -       

Track length: 4.250 km 
'98 pole: Mika Hakkinen (McLaren) 1:14.929 
'99 pole: Rubens Barrichello (Stewart) 1:38.441 
'99 fastest testing time: Eddie Irvine (Ferrari) 1:15.876 

Mugello F1 Testing

Pos  Driver   Best      14       15       16 Sept      
 1.  Irvine   1:27.198  1:28.24  1:27.20  1:27.98      
 2.  Salo     1:28.011  1:28.52  1:28.01   -           

Track length: 5.250 km
'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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