SUZUKA, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2000-With his win in the inaugural SAP Grand Prix at Indianapolis two weeks ago, Michael Schumacher put himself into position to clinch his third World Championship in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix. With two...
SUZUKA, Japan, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2000-With his win in the inaugural SAP Grand Prix at Indianapolis two weeks ago, Michael Schumacher put himself into position to clinch his third World Championship in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix. With two races to go, Ferrari's Schumacher now has an eight-point lead over title rival Mika Hakkinen, who failed to finish in Indianapolis because of an engine problem with his West McLaren-Mercedes. If Schumacher can exit the Japanese Grand Prix with a 10-point lead over Hakkinen, he will be the new FIA Formula One World Champion. Even if both drivers end up tied in the points after the season finale on Oct. 22 at Malaysia, the title will go to Schumacher who has more wins this season than Hakkinen. If Hakkinen wins in Japan, he can keep his title hopes alive. Conversely, if Schumacher wins, he will become champion. The aim for both drivers, therefore, is to win. "We come to this Grand Prix prepared and with a confident mind," Hakkinen said. "The mission is to try and get the best out of the car and find the best possible setup, and to try to win it because (for us) that is the only way to continue the fight." While Hakkinen needs both this race and the season finale in Malaysia to win the championship, Schumacher hopes to clinch the title in Japan. "Naturally we would (prefer to) finish the situation here rather than later," Schumacher said. "To do this you have to fight as a normal race because a victory is needed to win the championship, and that is what we are going for." The eight-point gap is not insurmountable, and Hakkinen said he is not feeling too much pressure. "The situation we have at the moment, in terms of pressure, is not traumatic," Hakkinen said. "You may wonder why I am saying that, but in Grand Prix racing, anything can happen. The difference is eight points in one sense is quite a lot, but on the other hand it is not that much because you saw what happened to me in the last Grand Prix and what happened to Michael. It could be vice versa (here), so I am still confident for the situation." Schumacher agreed that the championship could still go either way. "As Mika said, it's racing, and anything can happen," Hakkinen said. "I'm not stupid enough to believe now in the title unless it is really done. And it's not done. We have eight points, and it's a nice cushion, but it's not enough, and therefore we have to fight until the end." Both drivers said that they are not treating this race differently from any other, but Hakkinen quipped: "The only thing I will change is that in every corner I will try to brake 3 meters later." Schumacher responded: "If he brakes 3 meters later, I will brake 5 meters later." Hakkinen is trying to become only the second driver in history to win three consecutive titles. Juan Manuel Fangio won four straight championships from 1954-57. Schumacher, meanwhile, is trying to become the first Ferrari driver to win the championship since Jody Scheckter in 1979. The title has been decided at the Japanese Grand Prix nine times since 1976, and on three occasions that was the last race of the season. Since the Formula One World Championship began in 1950, the championship has been decided in the final race 21 times. Five times in the last six years, including the last four years, the championship has been clinched in the season finale.
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Japanese Grand Prix live on Speedvision at 1 a.m. (EDT) Oct. 8. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape delayed at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in various time zones Oct. 8. Check local listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at midnight (EDT) Oct. 7.
*** Constructors Championship still open: In addition to the Drivers Championship, the Constructors Championship is also not settled. Ferrari leads that title duel with a 10-point lead over McLaren-Mercedes.
*** Favorite track: The challenging Suzuka circuit is one of favorite tracks for many of the F1 drivers. "This is one of the best tracks," Mika Hakkinen said, "because it has a lot of different interesting and exciting characteristics for a racing car and a racing driver. You have hairpins, high-speed corners, hard braking and easy braking. You need good traction and good power.
"This circuit has everything that Grand Prix racing really needs. It is an exciting track to drive."
*** Mercedes increases F1 effort: Now that it has withdrawn from CART, Mercedes-Benz plans to put additional resources into its F1 program. "We have to," said Mercedes-Benz racing director Norbert Haug. "These guys (the other engine manufacturers in F1) are too strong, and we have to concentrate our resources. Now that we have a Grand Prix in America, we can promote our motor sport activities in a very good way there. "Other than the result in the racetrack, the whole company was very pleased with what happened in Indianapolis."
*** Testing changes: New rules have been introduced that will limit testing in 2001.
No testing will be allowed at Silverstone, Magny-Cours, Monza and Barcelona for 28 days before their events. These are the four official F1 test tracks, and all testing is already prohibited on the other circuits that host a Grand Prix.
No testing will be permitted on the Monday following the race on a circuit where a Grand Prix has been held. Each year, the schedule will be required to have a three-week gap between races in August, and no testing will be allowed during this period.
*** Safety improvements: The rear roll hoop on Formula One cars must pass increased load tests in 2001. Next year the chassis also must pass a side intrusion test.
*** Tire changes: Next year, each driver will be allocated 10 sets of tires rather than the eight sets allotted this season. But at the end of Friday's practice next year, three of those sets cannot be used for the rest of the weekend.
This rule has been introduced to encourage the teams to do more running on Friday and because of the new rules that limit testing. To help prevent aquaplaning in heavy rain, wet-weather tire diameter has been increased by 1 cm (0.394 inch).
*** Formula 3000 schedule: Next year's FIA Formula 3000 schedule will consist of 12 races that will run in conjunction with all Grand Prix races in Europe and the Brazilian Grand Prix.
*** Scheckter and Jaguar: Tomas Scheckter, the 20-year-old son of 1979 World Champion Jody Scheckter, has signed as Jaguar Racing test driver for the 2001 season. He replaces Luciano Burti, who will team up with Eddie Irvine as the team's regular drivers next year.
<pre> Japanese Grand Prix Fast Facts
Date: Sunday, Oct. 8 Race: Sixteenth of 17 on 2000 schedule Venue: Suzuka Circuit length: 3.644 miles, 5.864 km Race length: 53 laps On TV: Race (live) - 1 a.m. (EDT) Oct. 8, Speedvision. (Tape delay) - 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. in various time zones Oct. 8, Fox Sports Net. Check local listings. Qualifying (live) - Midnight (EDT) Oct. 7, Speedvision Points leader: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 1999 race winner: Mika Hakkinen, West McLaren-Mercedes 1999 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, Michael Schumacher, Ferrari Previous winners: 1998 - Mika Hakkinen; 1997 - Michael Schumacher; 1996 - Damon Hill; 1995 - Michael Schumacher; 1994 - Damon Hill, 1993 - Ayrton Senna, 1992 - Ricardo Patrese