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JANUARY 16, 2001

Hakkinen back at Valencia as Verstappen tops times

DOUBLE world champion Mika Hakkinen returned to the cockpit of his McLaren Mercedes-Benz at Valencia on Monday when he tested the car for the first time since the Malaysian Grand Prix in October.

Hakkinen, whose wife Erja gave birth to the couple's first child (Hugo) in December, had not driven since the season ending event at Sepang. But he returned on the opening day of testing and posted the sixth quickest time.

"It's very, very nice to be back and to see all the team," Hakkinen said. "When I was first told about the test it was the day Hugo was born, which wasn't good timing. But now I'm here and I'm glad to be back."

Arrows' Dutch driver Jos Verstappen topped the times with a fastest lap time of one minute and 18.308 seconds over two seconds quicker than Hakkinen. The Finnish driver's best lap time was one minute and 20.661.

Benetton's Giancarlo Fisichella, who celebrated his 28th birthday today (Monday), worked on electronic development and posted the second quickest time of the day ahead of Jaguar's Eddie Irvine.

Juan Pablo Montoya continued his Formula One education as he went fourth quickest ahead of BMW Williams' test-driver Marc Gene as both sampled the Spanish circuit for the first time.

Hakkinen was four seconds quicker than McLaren tester Alexander Wurz, who ended seventh, while Ralf Schumacher ended eighth after his tire testing was disrupted by wet weather.

"It was very difficult to get any consistency with the weather and the track conditions," Schumacher said. "The unpredictability didn't really allow any definitive tire testing."

Jaguar new-boy Luciano Burti was ninth fastest ahead of former Formula Three rival Jenson Button, who only managed three laps in his Benetton because of the weather.

Times from day one of testing at Valencia:

Jos Verstappen Arrows 1:18.308
Giancarlo Fisichella Benetton 1:19.330
Eddie Irvine Jaguar 1:19.718
Juan Pablo Montoya BMW-Williams 1:19.816
Marc Gene BMW-Williams 1:20.499
Mika Hakkinen McLaren 1:20.661
Alexander Wurz McLaren 1:24.672
Ralf Schumacher BMW-Williams 1:28.321
Luciano Burti Jaguar 1:32.163
10  Jenson Button Benetton 1:51.145