The game of musical chairs has started earlier than ever in the FIA F3000 championship, as drivers manoeuvre themselves for a shot at the 2002 title.

With a major test taking place last week at Estoril in Portugal, faces old and new were spotted in a variety of garages as they negotiated try-outs with new employers or attempted to persuade erstwhile employers to give them another year behind the wheel.

Newly-crowned champions Nordic Racing were naturally amongst the hottest tickets, with veteran Mario Haberfeld and 2001 rookie Joel Camathias both spotted under the awning in Portugal.

"The test went well, although the weather proved to be disappointing," said team manager Chris Mower, "We had a set agenda for both drivers, all of which was purely for evaluation purposes.

"It is still too early to announce drivers for next year - our testing programme is ongoing and we still have drivers to evaluate. Mario and Joel had a good test despite the weather, however, and we would like to test them both again."

Swiss driver Camathias set the faster time of the pair, his 1min 30.62secs proving to be 0.05secs quicker than Brazilian Haberfeld.

Nordic is scheduled to give the new Lola B2/50 spec F3000 chassis a shakedown in Barcelona this week, and it is speculated that another newcomer to the formula this year, Zsolt Baumgartner, will try out with the team. Warren Hughes, a veteran of the European F3000 series, is slated to give the new car its first run, however.

Also in Portugal, mid-grid teams Coloni and Durango tested a variety of hopefuls, ranging from unknowns Arnold Brinkmann and Tom Nemarmik to F3 frontrunners Gianmaria Bruni and Bjorn Wirdheim. Bruni emerged as the quickest of the four, while experienced F3000 pilot Polo Vilaamil also drove.

Again, neither team would confirm whether any of the quintet were in with a shot of lining up with them next year.

With two of the leading seats - at the Red Bull Junior team - having already been snapped up by their present incumbents, subsequent tests like that in Estoril will take on greater importance for the various hopefuls.