Austrian GP preview, facts

SPIELBERG, Austria, Thursday, July 13, 2000 - The battle for the World Championship resumes July 16 with the Austrian Grand Prix, the 10th of 17 rounds on this year’s Formula One calendar. David Coulthard’s win in the recent French Grand...

SPIELBERG, Austria, Thursday, July 13, 2000 - The battle for the World Championship resumes July 16 with the Austrian Grand Prix, the 10th of 17 rounds on this year’s Formula One calendar.

David Coulthard’s win in the recent French Grand Prix in his West McLaren-Mercedes brought him to within 12 points of Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher, who failed to finish that race. The battle for the Constructors Championship is even closer: Ferrari leads with 88 points while McLaren-Mercedes is second with 82 points.

While he obviously wants to win the championship, Coulthard said he wants to focus on the job at hand this weekend rather than the points gap. “I’m just going to concentrate on getting the best that I can out of myself this weekend,” Coulthard said, “and it goes without saying that the goal is to try and win. But if that is not possible, then I hope to have reliability and not make mistakes and keep building the points. We will see where we are at the end of the season.”

Coulthard has finished second in the past three Grand Prix races in Austria. Schumacher, who missed last year’s race because he was recuperating from a broken leg, finished sixth and third in his two races in Austria. “I have never managed to win in Austria,” Schumacher said, “and I reckon now would be a good time to change that. At least I hope so. After what happened in the French Grand Prix, we have to try once again to increase our lead. We have to concentrate hard on the job at hand.”

Schumacher has 56 points and Coulthard 44. Coulthard’s teammate, Mika Hakkinen, is third in the standings with 38 points. “I want to concentrate in a positive way on this Grand Prix and get the best possible result,” said Hakkinen, who has one victory this season, “but you never know what is going to happen.”

As for the championship, Hakkinen still believes he is a contender. “In the last two years, the position in the championship has been decided in last Grand Prix,” said Hakkinen, who won the title on both occasions. “I’m quite relaxed. I know there are many races to go. I’m not lacking confidence or motivation in Formula One or McLaren.”

Coulthard said he is ready to take on anybody in the fight for the championship. “I relish the challenge of competing against the other Grand Prix drivers,” he said, “and naturally the biggest challenge comes from within your own team because your teammate is the only driver about whom you can be sure machinery-wise. But Michael is the leader of the championship and also therefore the driver from whom I am trying to claw back points.” In this race last year, Coulthard knocked Hakkinen into a spin while contesting the lead on the opening lap. Eddie Irvine won the race while Coulthard and Hakkinen ended up second and third, respectively. Coulthard said he wouldn’t think about that incident at the start of this year’s Austrian Grand Prix.

“What bearing could that have on what happens this year?” Coulthard asked. “I often tell myself that I can influence the future, but I can’t do anything about the past. That’s the way I lead my life.” The Austrian Grand Prix takes place in the Styrian Mountains, about 125 miles (200 km) southwest of Vienna. “I like the track a lot as it is situated in the middle of the countryside with the mountains as a backdrop,” Schumacher said, “which is the type of place I love.”

This marks the fourth time the Austrian Grand Prix has taken place at the revised track now called the A1-Ring. The new track is a shortened and safer version of the original Osterreichring (the “Austrian track”) that hosted the Austrian Grand Prix from 1970 through 1987.

The track, also called Zeltweg because of a nearby town of the same name, was the site of Roger Penske’s only Grand Prix victory as a team owner. Penske, whose drivers have won 10 Indianapolis 500’s, ran a F1 team in 1975 and 1976. John Watson won the 1976 Austrian Grand Prix in a Penske-Ford.

Two Indianapolis 500 winners also won the Austrian Grand Prix, with Emerson Fittipaldi taking the victory in 1972 and Jacques Villeneuve in 1997. Nigel Mansell, who finished third in the 1993 Indianapolis 500, won the last Grand Prix held on the old Osterreichring in 1987.

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 16. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape delayed at 10 a.m. in all time zones July 16. Check local listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on July 15.

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BAR awaits Villeneuve decision: Craig Pollock, the director of Lucky Strike BAR-Honda, has done everything he can to convince Jacques Villeneuve to remain with the team next season.

“I have just spent five days on a boat with Jacques, and I tried very hard,” Pollock said. “I offered him a concrete waistcoat in case he didn’t sign (with BAR for a third year), but I couldn’t catch him, so that didn’t work out.

“I would love to think he will be staying. I have now done everything I can. It’s a question of where he believes he will get the best performance in the years to come. We are doing everything we can to prove to him that the car will be upgraded and that there will be slight changes, technically, within the company. We can’t do any more than that.”

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Barrichello’s break: Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello took a holiday break between the races in France and Austria and went home to Brazil.

“It was great,” he said. “It’s wintertime back home and quite cold. I spent my time in the mountains, at an altitude of 1,700 meters, training and having fun. I was getting a lot of sleep as well as doing all my training. “I was doing the things I used to do at home: watching TV, spending time with the dogs and enjoying being with my family. I think it was something I needed, and I have come back refreshed.

“Driving for Ferrari we do a lot of testing, so you do need at least a week’s holiday once every two months, without talking about racing cars. Next week I will be spending three days at Mugello, then another day at Fiorano. That’s quite a tough four days. It’s good to get out of that world, so that when you come back you realize how much you’re missing it.”

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Home race: Alexander Wurz, the only Austrian driver currently in the F1 lineup, had lots of work on and off the track this weekend.

“My home Grand Prix not only means racing in a nice atmosphere with the support of the fans,” Wurz said, “but also lots of work off the track. My schedule is quite heavy, with lots of PR, sponsor and media appearances, so there is little time to rest. But that is the pressure I can cope with, and I am very strict about having some time to myself to prepare properly for qualifying and the race.” Wurz has not finished in the top six in his Mild Seven Benetton-Playlife this season.

“It’s been very disappointing to have zero points on my score card,” he said. “I am pushing hard to change that this weekend.”

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Champion’s son climbs F1 ladder: Tomas Scheckter, son of 1979 Formula One World Champion Jody Scheckter, will compete for the rest of the season in the FIA Formula 3000 International Championship. He replaces Stephane Sarrazin on the mySAP.com team, which is the Formula 3000 team affiliated with West McLaren-Mercedes.

The Formula 3000 series, which runs in conjunction with 10 of the European F1 races, is one of the training grounds for future F1 drivers and crewmembers. McLaren, Williams, Prost, Sauber and Arrows all have connections with “junior” Formula 3000 teams.

Tomas Scheckter will also continue to race in the British Formula 3 championship.

<pre> Austrian Grand Prix Fast Facts

Date: Sunday, July 16 Race: 10th of 17 on 2000 schedule Venue: A1-Ring Circuit length: 2.688 miles, 4.326 km Race length: 72 laps On TV: Race (live) -- 7:30 a.m. (EDT) July 16, Speedvision. (Tape delay) - 10 a.m. in all time zones July 16, FOX Sports Net. Check local listings. Qualifying (live) -- 7 a.m. (EDT) July 15, Speedvision Points leader: Michael Schumacher, Ferrari 1999 race winner: Eddie Irvine, Ferrari 1999 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, West McLaren-Mercedes Previous winners: 1998 - Mika Hakkinen; 1997 - Jacques Villeneuve; 1987 - Nigel Mansell; 1986 - Alain Prost; 1985 - Alain Prost; 1984 - Niki Lauda

-IRNLS/IMS-

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Series Formula 1
Drivers Eddie Irvine , Tomas Scheckter , Michael Schumacher , Rubens Barrichello , David Coulthard , Mika Hakkinen , Jacques Villeneuve , Alexander Wurz , Nigel Mansell , Niki Lauda , Alain Prost , John Watson , Emerson Fittipaldi , Jody Scheckter , Roger Penske
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Benetton