SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2000 - Michael Schumacher is going hunting on one of his favorite hunting grounds this weekend-the daunting and challenging Spa-Francorchamps circuit, home of the Belgian Grand Prix. ...
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2000 - Michael Schumacher is going hunting on one of his favorite hunting grounds this weekend-the daunting and challenging Spa-Francorchamps circuit, home of the Belgian Grand Prix. After leading the Formula One World Championship since the first Grand Prix of the season, Schumacher arrives in Belgium two points behind new leader Mika Hakkinen. "I have always been a good hunter," Schumacher said. "It should concern me but, honestly, the differences (between the performance of the Ferrari and West McLaren-Mercedes cars) are in such an area that if you get it right at the next race, the advantage can easily be the other way around." After 12 of 17 races, McLaren-Mercedes driver Hakkinen has 64 points while Schumacher has earned 62 in his Ferrari. Hakkinen's teammate, David Coulthard, is third in the standings with 58 followed by Ferrari's Barrichello with 49. Schumacher will attempt to regain the championship lead at Spa-Francorchamps, a circuit has played an important role in his Formula One career. The track is closer to his hometown of Kerpen, Germany, than is the Hockenheim circuit that plays host to the German Grand Prix. Schumacher made his F1 debut at Spa, driving for Jordan, in 1991 and won his first Grand Prix at the same track a year later behind the wheel of a Benetton. He also scored three consecutive Belgian Grand Prix victories from 1995 through 1997. Now that he is the hunted, Hakkinen knows he will have to work hard to keep his championship lead. "To keep that lead is going to be hard work," Hakkinen said. "The pressure is getting higher and higher on everybody. It's tough. I've been in this position before. It's a terrible feeling! Leading the championship is a great feeling, but you have to stay there." One reason Coulthard has slipped from second to third in the points is that, even though he has been qualifying on the front row, he has been losing positions to Hakkinen and Schumacher at the start. "My last couple of starts have not been good enough," Coulthard said. "It's not just about qualifying at the front, it's about getting away at the front, as well." Coulthard said he has been studying the telemetry data from Hakkinen's start to see why his teammate has been having quicker getaways. As for whom he considers his main rival in the championship, Coulthard said: "Who ever is in front of me in the championship is my rival, and so is anybody close behind me." The Spa-Francorchamps circuit, which sweeps and plunges through the mountain regions of the Ardennes Forest, is mostly made up of actual roads. "I love coming to Spa," Schumacher said. "It's my favorite circuit." Most of the drivers relish the thought of tackling the intimidating and demanding Eau Rouge corner, a difficult left/right swerve at the bottom of a steep hill. The drivers barely lift off the throttle, and sometimes keep their foot flat to the floor through the bend, which they approach faster than 190 mph (310 km/h). "Eau Rouge presents itself as a new challenge lap after lap," Schumacher said. "When you have a good car, when you can go flat out and when you realize that you have done a good job, then it's the ultimate joy." Barrichello commented, "This circuit is one of the most difficult on the calendar with corners like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont, which are really tough but fascinating." Besides the challenging corners and high speeds, rain almost always plays a part during the Belgian Grand Prix weekend. "The weather is always unpredictable at Spa," said Willy Rampf, technical director of the Red Bull Sauber Petronas team," so you need to prepare both dry and wet setups. By its very nature, this is a track where not only the drivers are put to an ultimate test but also the engineers, who must set up their cars to cope with a wide range of circumstances over a long lap."
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Belgian Grand Prix live on Speedvision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 27. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape delayed at 10 a.m. in all time zones Aug. 27. Check local listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on Aug. 26.
*** Salo joins Toyota: Finland's Mika Salo has signed on as a test and development driver for the new Toyota Formula One team that will enter the Grand Prix championship in 2002. Salo will team up with Allan McNish, who is already working as a test driver for Toyota.
*** New engines: Ferrari has brought new specification engines for both qualifying and the race.
*** Prost keeps quiet: Team owner Alain Prost declined to comment on the future of his team or what engines the team may use. "I don't want to jeopardize talks that are going on," he said. An announcement is expected at the end of the month.
*** Championship decider: Bruno Junqueira can clinch the FIA International Formula 3000 Championship in 10th and final round of the series Saturday at Spa. He has a seven-point lead over Nicolas Minassian, the only other driver still in contention for the title.
*** Minardi's position: Minardi team principal Gabriele Rumi issued two statements Aug. 24 regarding the alleged blocking actions by Minardi driver Marc Gene in the recent Hungarian Grand Prix Rumi said that the track marshals didn't show Gene the blue flags to warn him that Eddie Irvine was behind him, and the TV monitors in the pit lane did not give out that information, either. Rumi also presented lap sector times as evidence that he said showed that Gene did obstruct David Coulthard.
*** Only the few: Since the Belgian Grand Prix returned to the revised Spa circuit in 1985, only seven drivers have won the 15 events on the challenging track. Ayrton Senna won the event five times, and Michael Schumacher has four victories. Damon Hill earned three wins, while Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost and David Coulthard each have one victory.
*** Historic moment: Dan Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in his Eagle-Weslake, marking the first and only time an American has won a Grand Prix in a car of his own construction. That victory came just one week after Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the Le Mans 24 Hours driving a Ford. "It was an incredible year," Gurney said. "It certainly gave me a lot of satisfaction."
*** Schumacher exhibition: Michael and Ralf Schumacher are planning to open an exhibition of their racing careers. It will be on display at their indoor go-kart track in Kerpen, Germany.
*** No rest needed: David Coulthard arrived at Spa looking tanned from a recent vacation. While he declined to say where he went on holiday, Coulthard said he didn't need the rest to go fast on the track. "I don't think that going quick is due to not driving," he said.
<pre> Belgian Grand Prix Fast Facts
Date: Sunday, Aug. 27 Race: Thirteenth of 17 on 2000 schedule Venue: Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium Circuit length: 4.33 miles (6.968 km) Race length: 44 laps On TV: Race (live) -- 7:30 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 27, Speedvision. (Tape delay) - 10 a.m. in all time zones Aug. 27, FOX Sports Net. Check local listings. Qualifying (live) -- 7 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 26, Speedvision Points leader: Mika Hakkinen, West McLaren-Mercedes 1999 race winner: David Coulthard, West McLaren-Mercedes 1999 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, West McLaren-Mercedes Previous winners: 1998 - Damon Hill; 1997 - Michael Schumacher; 1996 - Michael Schumacher; 1995 - Michael Schumacher; 1994 - Damon Hill, 1993 - Damon Hill, 1992 - Michael Schumacher