|Time for Action|
|September 1st-3rd Test Times Analysis||by Michele Lupini, South Africa|
The weeks since the last Grand Prix at Spa have seen a fair bit of off- and on-track activity. Some has been splendid, some silly. But the Italian Grand Prix promises to continue the saga of a thrilling title chase. Lets hope though, that this race proves as good as the championship battle for once.
Eddie Irvine served notice of his intention to take his race number elsewhere as number one in testing at Monza last week, in a session dominated by his team leader's decision to remain in convalescence.
The Ulsterman's prospective employers for 2000 must surely be content with the possibility that he may well bring that number with, if and as he swaps the prancing horse for a pouncing cat. But for 1999, the Ferrari star and saviour is looking good for the team's home race after setting a quickest lap a second and a half quicker than Schumacher's pole there last year.
Second in Monza, and another team looking for a return to form on the eve of the announcement of its expected restructuring, was the Stewart-Ford, in the hands of a resurgent Johnny Herbert. Johnny ended three tenths of a second behind the man who may well be his teammate at a team called Jaguar in the new millennium.
Next, in a session dominated by the respective teams' second drivers, was David Coulthard, the McLaren man almost four tenths behind his favourite sparring partner, Irvine. He headed his teammate and current title table topping Mika Hakkinen – another 0.15 seconds back.
Whether Coulthard will be allowed to steal his title aspirant teammate's glory at Monza again, remains to be seen. The McLarens have dominated races at circuits where they lacked testing pace this year, although Ferrari at Monza could be a different prospect. Either way, McLaren's policy of who should finish ahead this weekend will be most interesting if David's out front.
Alex Zanardi had an excellent week in testing. He deserves a good points finish. So lets hope that Patrick Head can pay enough attention to ensure his team looks after the Champcar star to ensure he finishes where he should, rather than making Grand Prix racing seem like tiddlywinks. Head's comments on Ferrari after Spa seemed out of place, especially since his own crew's fumbled stop cost Alex a certain sixth place points finish...
Mika Salo confirmed strength in Ferrari's line-up at home, despite the absence of their star driver in Monza for the race, with a consistent sixth. Salo ended ahead of Olivier Panis' Prost and a happy Ralf Schumacher, despite his apparent lack of pace. Ferrari's new-millennium star, Rubens Barrichello was ninth for Stewart.
Then came Jarno Trulli in the other Prost, from Heinz-Harald Frentzen. The Jordan star was some way off his June Monza timesheet-topping time, indicating that the yellow cars were concentrating on items other than pace after their splendid Spa showing.
As for the rest of the significant number of drivers at the test, Fisichella was twelfth in the Benetton, from the Diniz and Alesi Saubers, the other Benetton of Wurz, Hill's Jordan and a good-looking Gene in his Minardi. Marc split Hill from his ex-world champion colleagues, the injured Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve, in a second-string BAR after their Spa drama.
Zonta and Badoer brought up the rear in the BAR and Minardi. Only Arrows stayed away, concentrating on their fuel injection snag on an English drag strip.
So, where do we stand for Monza?
The drivers title stands split by a point between Hakkinen and Irvine, with Coulthard closing in and Frentzen ready to capitalise on any of the others' misfortune. The makers' lot is between McLaren and Ferrari nine points behind.
Yes the championship battle is poised on a knife's edge. Lets hope this weekend will, for once, provide a battle worthy of the war that the title's panning out to be.
Monza F1 Testing
|Michele Lupini||© 1999 Atlas Formula One Journal.|
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