IRVINE CARRIES FERRARI TORCH IN BATTLE WITH McLAREN IN AUSTRIA INDIANAPOLIS, July 22, 1999 -- The second half of the 1999 Formula One World Championship season kicks off with the Austrian Grand Prix, set in the scenic green Alpine countryside...
INDIANAPOLIS, July 22, 1999 -- The second half of the 1999 Formula One World Championship season kicks off with the Austrian Grand Prix, set in the scenic green Alpine countryside with the backdrop of the Styrian Alps. The race -- round nine of 16 -- will feature two Mikas but only one Schumacher.
Michael Schumacher is back home in Switzerland recuperating from an accident in the recent British Grand Prix in which he broke both bones in his lower right leg. Ferrari has determined that Schumacher's accident was caused by the sudden loss of pressure to the rear-brake circuit because a bleed nipple on the left rear caliper came loose. Ferrari has since modified that particular part.
Two-time World Champion Schumacher will be out of the cockpit of his Ferrari for approximately three months and probably will miss all but the final two Grand Prix races of the season.
"I won't be able to race for perhaps two to three months, and I have lost all my chances for the championship," Schumacher said. "But I'm confident I will be back in the Ferrari before the end of the season. I am not depressed."
The Schumacher name will still be represented at the races, however, as Michael's younger brother, Ralf, who recently took a third place at the British Grand Prix, races for Winfield Williams-Supertec. Ralf Schumacher's teammate is two-time CART champ Alex Zanardi.
Ferrari has nominated "the other Mika" to replace Michael Schumacher. Finland's Mika Hakkinen leads the points standings in the Drivers Championship. The other Mika - Finland's Mika Salo -- has competed in 71 Grand Prix races driving for Lotus, Tyrrell, Arrows and, most recently, British American Racing. His best career F1 finish to date has been a fourth place.
"This is the biggest opportunity of my life," said Salo, who immediately began testing. But he did ask Ferrari for some time off on Saturday, July 17.
"They said I'd be testing until Saturday, but I said I have a little problem on Saturday -- I was getting married!" Salo said.
Hakkinen has 40 points while Michael Schumacher and Ferrari teammate Eddie Irvine are tied for second with 32 points each. Heinz-Harald Frentzen is next in the standings with 26 points followed by British Grand Prix winner David Coulthard with 22. Ferrari leads the Constructors Championship with 64 points to the 62 earned by West McLaren-Mercedes.
Irvine's contract stipulates that he must play a supporting part to Michael Schumacher's championship aspirations. But he now finds himself thrust into the leadership role position at Ferrari.
"I now have a big responsibility toward the team," Irvine said. "I do not feel any additional pressure and will treat this Grand Prix like any other race."
"To win the championship we need to knuckle down and make less mistakes," Irvine said, "but that might happen because Michael's not around. There will be less pressure on the guys. I think there's a certain level of pressure people can take, and after that it's too much.
"The Ferrari fans have always been very much behind me. I just hope I can deliver the goods. It's not going to be easy."
Still, Irvine has rated his chances of winning the championship as 50/50. Ferrari will work hard to offset not having its star driver on hand, team sporting director Jean Todt said. Michael Schumacher's talent, Todt said, makes the car a few fractions of a second per lap faster than any other driver would be capable of turning.
"We will be concentrating on both the Drivers and Constructors Championships," Todt said. "Losing one key element of the team does not help, so we are going to try to (compensate) by improving the car." So can Irvine take up the challenge?
"Eddie has done very well since the beginning of the season," Todt said. "Time will tell. He has to show us what he is able to do. He will not have Michael to worry about for the time being, so I just hope that he can do the best job possible."
Austria hosted Grand Prix races continuously between 1970 and 1987 on the daunting Osterreichring circuit. The 1987 race was won by Williams driver Nigel Mansell, who would go on to become the 1992 World Champion, finish second in the 1993 Indianapolis 500 and win the 1993 CART championship. F1 returned to Austria in 1997 to the same venue but the mighty
Osterreichring, now called the A1-Ring, had been shortened and modified to meet modern F1 safety requirements. Jacques Villeneuve, the 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and CART champion, picked up where Mansell had left off by winning the race driving a Williams.
Last year, Villeneuve finished sixth in Austria and announced that he would leave Williams to join the new British American Racing team in 1999. So far this season, Villeneuve has yet to get his unreliable BAR-Supertec to finish a single race. He's the only driver not to make it across the finish line this year.
Austria has produced several star F1 drivers: three-time World Champion Niki Lauda, 1970 World Champion Jochen Rindt and 10-time Grand Prix winner Gerhard Berger. The latter, who was instrumental in the return of the Grand Prix to Austria, is now the motorsports director at BMW and will oversee BMW's return to F1 next year as engine supplier and technical partner to Williams.
The latest Austrian F1 hero is Alexander Wurz. Although Wurz scored six top-six finishes driving for Benetton last year, he's had only one top-six placing this season.
"It's been tough so far, as at the beginning of the season the car was very heavy so I was over the weight limit," said Wurz. "There have been a few things that haven't gone as I would like, but the season isn't over yet. You have to remember that last year (at this time) Jordan had only one point, and they then finished fourth in the Constructors Championship. So we shouldn't make any judgement until the season is over."
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Austrian Grand Prix live on SpeedVision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) July 25. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape-delayed at 10 a.m. July 25 in all time zones. SpeedVision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on July 24. *** Damon decides: After vacillating for the past three weeks over just when he will retire, Damon Hill has decided that he will race for the rest of the season and then retire as he previously announced. "Damon Hill has reaffirmed his pledge to help Jordan ... by continuing to race for the remainder of the 1999 season," team owner Eddie Jordan said. "We are all extremely pleased with Damon's decision. His contribution to this massive team effort is invaluable, and we are all eagerly anticipating the last eight races." The B&H Jordan-Mugen-Honda team is third in the Constructors Championship behind West McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari. *** Racey Recipes: A cookbook called Racey Recipes, containing recipes from the motor racing fraternity around the world, has been published. All profits from its sales will go to UNICEF. If you'd like to help charity and cook along with Mario Andretti, Alex Zanardi, Al Unser, Mika and Erja Hakkinen, Stirling and Susie Moss, Richard Petty, Bernie and Slavica Ecclestone, Jacques Villeneuve, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Michael and Corinna Schumacher, and a host of other racing celebrities, this is the cookbook for you. It sells for 9.99 pounds plus shipping and postage in England via mail order at: The Racey Recipe Group, Debowe Publishing, Weavers, Fewcott, Bicester, Oxfordshire, OX6 9NZ, Great Britain. In the U.S. contact FOSA at 8033 Sunset Blvd, #60, Los Angeles, Calif., 90046. The cookbook will also be sold at selected motorsport retail and publishing outlets. *** Changing names: Formula One returned to Austria in 1997 for the first time since 1987. Back then, people called the track Zeltweg because of the old airfield track that was in the nearby town of Zeltweg, although the official name of the circuit was the Osterreich-Ring (The Austrian Circuit). Osterreich is German for Austria and the term first appeared 1,000 years ago. In 1997, the track has been renamed the A-1 Ring after a cellular telephone company A-1 paid for the privilege. The track has always been within the boundaries of the nearby village of Spielberg, but those who visited the race here in the past insist on calling the track Zeltweg.