NURBURG, Germany, Thursday, May 18, 2000 - Mika Hakkinen, who hopes to score his third consecutive victory of the season in European Grand Prix on May 21, believes his team has turned the corner and ready to challenge for ...
NURBURG, Germany, Thursday, May 18, 2000 - Mika Hakkinen, who hopes to score his third consecutive victory of the season in European Grand Prix on May 21, believes his team has turned the corner and ready to challenge for the championship.
Hakkinen said his win in the recent Spanish Grand Prix was, like last year, a turning point for the West McLaren-Mercedes team.
"I'm quite happy about what happened at the last Grand Prix," he said. "We finally proved that we can be really competitive in all the areas again. It's good to continue from this point.
"We have definitely made a similar step like we did last year with the car. We understand more about the car, and we are getting the reliability with the car."
After failing to score points in the opening two races, Hakkinen earned 26 points with a second place and two wins in the last three races. Michael Schumacher, who won the first three races of the season in his Ferrari, has seen his points lead over Hakkinen drop from 20 points at one stage to 14.
"That's not a big gap at this time of the year," Hakkinen said.
The European Grand Prix title has been used in recent years for a country that plays host to more than one Grand Prix in a season. With the German Grand Prix regularly staged in Hockenheim in late July, the race at the Nurburgring circuit is called the European Grand Prix.
Traditionally the Nurburgring race takes place in September, but this year the event moved to May because the inaugural United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis has been scheduled for Sept. 24.
The Nurburgring circuit, located in the Eifel Mountains southwest of Koln, is near to the town of Kerpen, where the Schumacher brothers grew up.
"I am really looking forward to racing at the Nurburgring, a circuit which is very near the place that I was born," Michael Schumacher said. "That means I will be racing with plenty of local support."
Sunday's Grand Prix is one of three home races for Williams-BMW driver Ralf Schumacher.
"I am in the lucky position to have three home Grands Prix each year," he said. "With this race and Hockenheim, I have two in Germany, and of course I have Monaco (where I live)."
The Schumacher brothers said there was no animosity between them after their duel in the Spanish Grand Prix that cost Ralf Schumacher a top three finish. "I got angry because I lost a place on the podium," Ralf Schumacher said. "As a matter of fact, Michael an I don't really enjoy being overtaken and also we like to attack. Therefore we are strong adversaries on the track, and this is absolutely evident in our last two races.
"Formula One will never change anything in the relationship between the two of us, no matter what happens."
Michael Schumacher said he races aggressively against his brother because they can trust each other not to do anything dangerous. He also said that, while they are brothers, they don't give each other any presents when racing together.
"We had a chat about it," Michael Schumacher said of their intense duel in Spain. "But not in the way some people may wish to see that, or even in the way people wrote about what happened.
"He drives for Williams. I drive for Ferrari, and nobody can give each other a present. We have to fight all the way to the limit, as the rules allow us to do and as we do with our competitors. But we can allow ourselves to get into this situation, because we respect each other and we know how much room we need to give each other in order to survive and not to have any problem."
Besides the Schumacher brothers, this is the home for two other German drivers: Heinz-Harald Frentzen in the Benson & Hedges Jordan-Mugen-Honda and Nick Heidfeld in the Gauloises Prost-Peugeot. It's also the home race for engine manufacturers BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
All will have to deal with Nurburgring's notoriously unpredictable weather. Last year, Johnny Herbert's pit and tire strategy worked perfectly during the on-and-off rain showers, and he won the first Grand Prix for Stewart-Ford. This year at the Nurburgring, Herbert, driving for Jaguar (whose parent company Ford bought the Stewart-Ford team), starts his 150th Grand Prix.
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK:
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the European Grand Prix live on Speedvision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) May 21. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape delayed at 10 a.m. in all time zones May 21. Check local listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on May 20.
Hakkinen races on: Mika Hakkinen has denied stories that he has decided to retire from F1 at the end of this season.
"For me," he said, "there is no intention to retire. Everybody retires one day, but I am not in any rush to do that. I was surprised that kind of discussion and rumors came out anyway. Where did they come from?"
Mercedes-Benz welcomes BMW challenge: This is BMW's first race on home soil since it pulled out of F1 at the end of the 1987 season. Mercedes-Benz welcomes the new competition.
"If I had a choice I would certainly have chosen to have BMW as a competitor," said Mercedes-Benz motor sports director Norbert Haug. "We are close rivals in the market place, but they go about being competition with style, which is very important for us, and I have to say that BMW is done a fantastic job so far. It is good for F1, and for us, to have a high-value brand like BMW competing in F1. It will only start to become bad for us if they start getting in front of us!"
Schumacher delighted: Ralf Schumacher has finished in the points in three of the first four races, including a third place in the season opener, driving the Williams fitted with the new BMW engine.
"When you've just moved to a new engine supplier, you cannot normally come to the first race expecting to finish in the points, and certainly not in third place," he said. "In the subsequent races we have been reliable -- at least with my car -- and we haven't had a problem. We are delighted."
Coulthard update: David Coulthard suffered a bruised right chest wall and cracked the eighth, ninth and 10th ribs on his right side in the crash of his chartered jet on May 2 before the Spanish Grand Prix.
Since finishing second in that race, he has taken 10 days off to recuperate.
"I am absolutely confident that David will race at the European Grand Prix," said Professor Sid Watkins, FIA chief medical officer, "and that these findings will not influence his performance."
New look: The Nurburgring circuit has a massive new pit garage and hospitality complex. It consists of 30 pit garages and 27 VIP lounges.
Annual party: The Schumacher brothers held their annual go-kart racing party for their respective F1 teams May 16 before the European Grand Prix. The event takes place on Michael Schumacher's indoor go-kart track in Kerpen, Germany.
As there is not enough space for both brother's teams to be there at the same time, the Williams-BMW team had a chance to race each other in the morning while the Ferrari team came in the afternoon.