INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 26, 1999--The magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit, home of the Belgian Grand Prix, is the stage for the 12th round of the Formula One World Championship. It's also the next round in the championship duel between Eddie...
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 26, 1999--The magnificent Spa-Francorchamps circuit, home of the Belgian Grand Prix, is the stage for the 12th round of the Formula One World Championship. It's also the next round in the championship duel between Eddie Irvine in the Ferrari and Mika Hakkinen in the West McLaren-Mercedes. Although he leads Hakkinen by just two points, 56-54, Irvine said that this weekend's race is not crucial for the championship. "Everyone keeps trying to say how important this race will be," Irvine said, "but they are all important. Every Grand Prix carries the same number of points, and as long as we are still ahead after the last race, who cares what happens here? I don't care whether I score zero points here, just as long as I am ahead when we have finished the season." Neither Irvine nor Hakkinen has ever won a Grand Prix at Spa. "I don't believe it is a problem," Hakkinen said. "There were a couple of other circuits where I hadn't won before, and it happened this year. I am here to do the maximum with the team. "The team's work and motivation are at their maximum at the moment, so I see no reason why we shouldn't perform well here, or in the other races before the end of the season." Hakkinen admitted that his chances of winning Sunday's race are better because Michael Schumacher is not racing. "Eddie (Irvine), please don't misunderstand," Hakkinen said, "but he (Schumacher) is a two-time World Champion, so obviously he's a very challenging competitor on the circuit. He is not here, so obviously my life is easier." Schumacher's first Grand Prix victory came at Spa in 1992, and he also won the race in 1995, 1996 and 1997. But this year Schumacher has to miss the Belgian Grand Prix as he is still recovering from a broken leg suffered in the British Grand Prix. Irvine claims that he's not nervous about the upcoming battle. "I am having a wonderful time," Irvine said. "You do get nervous from time to time, but I have to say that I haven't been particularly nervous in the last few races. I don't know why not. "But everything is going great. We have had excellent reliability this year, apart from the slight hiccup at Imola and the problem in Hungary. But if you look back over the past two years, the Ferrari has been by far the most reliable car in F1. That is an important strong point for us." Before his victory in Hungary two weeks ago, Hakkinen had three consecutive unlucky races. "I should be leading it by 30 points at the moment," Hakkinen said. Spa-Francorchamps is a true road-racing classic. Public roads still make up parts of the circuit, which sweeps and plunges through the Ardennes Forest. To meet modern F1 standards, Spa was shortened from its original 8.7-mile (14.0-km) length to 4.3-miles (6.9-km) in 1983. The track, however, retained its daunting and challenging nature, and it's a favorite among the drivers. "I like the place," Alex Zanardi said. "I love it actually." Comprised of everything from slow corners (like the famous La Source hairpin) to high-speed challenges like the equally famous Eau Rouge turn, Spa is, said Stewart-Ford driver Johnny Herbert, "the most demanding circuit on the calendar because it presents such a challenge." Jacques Villeneuve loves speed -- be it the Indianapolis 500, which he won in 1995, or tearing around Spa. "Spa is an amazing track, and I just really like racing on it," Villeneuve said. "I've never been particularly successful there, although I have managed to get good results in qualifying. It is a pleasure to drive the circuit. There are great corners, and the track follows the landscape in a majestic way. "When you complete a lap at Spa, you feel like you've done something, that you've traveled somewhere. Eau Rouge is a brilliant corner that you can take flat out. Hopefully, I can still do that this year." Set at the bottom of steep hill, Eau Rouge is a fast kink that flicks the cars up another steep hill. "You take Eau Rouge at about 165 mph," Stewart-Ford driver Rubens Barrichello said. "You carry a lot of your speed at the entrance, which is downhill, and hold that through the exit, which is uphill. The g-force, the compression on your body, is incredible."
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. 29. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape-delayed at 10 a.m. Aug. 29 in all time zones. SpeedVision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 28. Musical chairs: A number of driver signings have recently been announced. Mika Salo will replace Jean Alesi at Sauber, while Alesi will replace Jarno Trulli at Prost and Trulli will replace the retiring Damon Hill at Jordan. Salo's Sauber: Mika Salo will drive for the Red Bull Sauber-Petronas team in 2000 and 2001. Salo, who has been substituting for the injured Michael Schumacher at Ferrari this season, also drove for BAR early in the year where he replaced the injured Ricardo Zonta. Next year he will team up with Pedro Diniz, who remains at Sauber. "By any standards 1999 has been a unique year for me and I learned a lot," Salo said. "It's my aim to put this experience to good use in helping Red Bull Sauber-Petronas to reach its full potential in the new millennium." Alesi to Prost: Just nine days after stating at the Hungarian Grand Prix that he would not remain at Sauber next year, Jean Alesi announced a two-year deal with Gauloises Prost-Peugeot where he will drive for long-time friend Alain Prost. "I'm highly motivated by the prospect of driving for Alain," Alesi said. "It's certainly a difficult challenge, but I have full confidence in the team's facilities. The technical side of things was the major factor in making my decision." Prost and Alesi were teammates at Ferrari in 1991, but both said that their friendship would not interfere with the operation of the team. "You have the friendship on one side and the work on the other," Prost said. "When you are working you put the friendship aside." Trulli & Jordan: Italian Jarno Trulli has signed a two-year deal with B&H Jordan-Mugen-Honda. Trulli, who has started 41 Grands Prix, made his F1 debut in 1997 with Minardi and moved to the Prost team later that season. "In Jarno I see one of the most exciting young drivers I have come across," team boss Eddie Jordan said. "I'm quite certain he will develop with Jordan into a winning driver." Schumacher back in saddle: Michael Schumacher was back in the cockpit of his Ferrari Aug. 20 when he spent a full day testing at Italy's Mugello circuit just 40 days after he broke both bones in his lower right leg in a crash at the British Grand Prix. "Almost straight away I felt comfortable with the car, although it took me a short while to adapt to changes in the balance of the car," Schumacher said. "I did around 60 laps with no problems. Over the bumps my right leg hurt a bit, but it had no effect on my performance." Schumacher was quicker than teammate Eddie Irvine, and the success of the test led to the possibility of Schumacher making his return in this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix. But Schumacher later suffered pain in his leg, so his comeback has been postponed until at least the Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 12. Ferrari released a statement saying Schumacher will test again before any decision is made: "At the test, which will run from September 1-3, he will carry out a race distance simulation as preparation for a possible participation in the Italian GP." Exclusive club: The challenging Spa circuit has seen only three different drivers -- Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill -- win the Belgian Grand Prix since 1988.
Belgian Grand Prix Fast Facts
Date: Sunday, Aug. 29 Race: 12th of 16 on 1999 schedule Venue: Spa-Francorchamps Circuit length: 4.33 miles, 6.968 km Race length: 44 laps On TV: Race (live) -- 7:30 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 29, SpeedVision. (Tape-delayed) -- 10 a.m. in all time zones Aug. 29, FOX Sports Net. Qualifying (live) - 7 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 28, SpeedVision Points leader: Eddie Irvine, Ferrari 1998 race winner: Damon Hill, Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1998 pole winner: Mika Hakkinen, McLaren-Mercedes Previous winners: 1997 -- Michael Schumacher; 1996 -- Michael Schumacher; 1995 -- Michael Schumacher; 1994 -- Damon Hill; 1993 -- Damon Hill