McLaren tests Paffett and Pantano at Jerez

McLaren is testing two young guns as part of its exclusive behind-closed-doors session at Jerez in Spain this week

McLaren tests Paffett and Pantano at Jerez

The Woking-based team has included German Formula 3 champion Giorgio Pantano and McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award winner Gary Paffett in its extensive pre-season programme. It is believed to be evaluating Italian Pantano as a potential second test driver, and he drove for the team yesterday and today (Wednesday) alongside regular tester Alexander Wurz.

Speculation in the Italian media has linked Pantano to a Ferrari test contract, and he has already tested a couple of times for Benetton, but the 21-year-old has now opted to try out for McLaren instead. Pantano has already signed a race deal with Astromega for this year's FIA Formula 3000 Championship.

He is managed by British-based Danish banker Lars-Christian Brask, who refused to elaborate about the test, saying: "It's not right for us to comment on McLaren's affairs. They're one of the most professional teams in the sport and it's their show."

Paffett, meanwhile, is receiving the run as his prize for winning the 1999 McLaren Autosport BRDC Young Driver Award. He also clinched last year's British Formula 3 Scholarship Class title, but is currently without a drive in the top class after being overlooked by Jaguar Racing. The young Englishman, a former Vauxhall Junior champion, will get his first taste of F1 power this Thursday when he drives the car that finished second in last year's World Championship in the hands of Mika Hakkinen.

Also testing at Jerez are regular race team drivers Hakkinen and David Coulthard, plus Mercedes DTM racer Darren Turner - the 1996 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner - who has driven McLaren's F1 cars on a number of occasions.

A main aim of the test is believed to be to target the recent failures with Mercedes's development engine. Engine builder Mario Illien has denied the problems it has encountered were down to the new rules, which preclude the use of beryllium this season.

"Beryllium may be part of the issue, but really it was a batch-related problem on a component, so we should have it sorted," he said.

Next week's Autosport magazine, on sale Thursday February 8, will carry an exclusive report on Paffett's test. Find out all the details as one of Britain's brightest new stars gets the biggest break of his life and tests arguably the fastest car in F1.

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