BUDAPEST, Hungary, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000 - "The fight will definitely go to the end of the season." That was Mika Hakkinen's prediction of the Formula One World Championship battle this year that has turned into a fierce fight ...
BUDAPEST, Hungary, Thursday, Aug. 10, 2000 - "The fight will definitely go to the end of the season." That was Mika Hakkinen's prediction of the Formula One World Championship battle this year that has turned into a fierce fight between four drivers after Michael Schumacher dominated the early races of the season. Nigel Mansell clinched the 1992 Formula One World Championship with a second-place finish in the Hungarian Grand Prix, which was the 11th of 16 races that year. In doing so, he won the title earlier than any other driver has since the modern championship began in 1950. When Schumacher won the first three Grand Prix races of the 2000 season and pulled out a 24-point lead over West McLaren-Mercedes driver Hakkinen, it seemed that the Ferrari driver would clinch the championship early in the season. But at the time, Schumacher warned that he was not about to become too confident about his title chances that early in the season because anything could happen. And what has happened has been plenty of bad luck for Schumacher and plenty of good luck for Hakkinen and Coulthard. "There was a big gap, and it (my championship hopes) did not look so great," Hakkinen said. "But now this is going to be a season where the decision is not made until the last few races. The racing is just that close between Michael (Schumacher), David (Coulthard), me, and, of course, Rubens (Barrichello.) Schumacher has only scored points once in the past five races, a victory in Canada earning him 10 points. In those same five races, Coulthard earned 30 points while Hakkinen produced 26 points. The result is that after 11 of 17 races, only 10 points separate the top four drivers in the championship battle. Heading into the Hungarian Grand Prix on Aug. 13, Schumacher has 56 points, which is just two more than West McLaren-Mercedes teammates Coulthard and Hakkinen, who have 54 points each. Barrichello is fourth in the championship with 46 points, with six podium finishes, including a win, in the last seven races. "This is a track where both Ferrari and I have done well in the past," Barrichello said. "But I am under no pressure. People try to remind me that I am only 10 points behind in the championship, but I am trying to look at my present and living my moment. If I am still in the running for the championship at the last race, then it's another matter. But right now I am just enjoying myself. I believe I am getting better and better every day that I run with Ferrari. Schumacher, meanwhile, believes his luck is about to change. "After all the bad luck I have had in the last few races," Schumacher said, "I am really looking forward to the Hungarian Grand Prix. It has always been a good event for me. I am optimistic about ending my run of bad luck here, and I think it is certainly about time. It's our turn to string together some good results now." Located just outside of Budapest, the Hungaroring has played host to the Hungarian Grand Prix since 1986 when it became the first Grand Prix to take place behind the Iron Curtain. The 1986 race drew an estimated crowd of 200,000, a modern day record for F1 that is set to be broken this year at the inaugural SAP United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis on Sept. 24. The tight and twisting nature of the Hungarian circuit makes overtaking difficult, so qualifying well is vitally important. Yet, while the race winner normally comes from the front rows of the grid, Nigel Mansell won the 1989 Hungarian Grand Prix after starting 12th in his Ferrari. "This is the slowest track we race on apart from Monaco," said Jaguar Racing's Eddie Irvine. "It's often described as Monaco without the barriers." While the track is set in the sun-baked hills in the countryside, everybody stays in nearby Budapest. "This is the only race where we get to stay in a country's capital," Irvine said. "Budapest is certainly worth a visit. It's a fascinating place and particularly looks spectacular at night with all the buildings lit up along the Danube River." Because it is seldom used, the track is dusty and slippery. The weather plays a factor in the race, too, as the temperature is often in the 90-degree Fahrenheit (31 Centigrade) range. "It is quite a tricky circuit to drive," Schumacher said. "The track is quite bumpy, and the weather is usually very hot in Hungary at this time of the year."
FORMULA ONE NOTEBOOK
Where to watch: Television viewers in the U.S. can watch the Hungarian Grand Prix live on Speedvision at 7:30 a.m. (EDT) Aug. 13. Fox Sports Net will air the race tape delayed at 10 a.m. in all time zones Aug. 13. Check local
listings. Speedvision will show qualifying live at 7 a.m. (EDT) on Aug. 12. *** Ferrari makes an extra effort: For logistical reasons, F1 teams normally bring only one spare car to a Grand Prix, and it is shared between the team' s two drivers on a predetermined basis.
Ferrari brought two back-up cars to Hungary so that both Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello could each have a spare car at their disposal.
Button waits: Jenson Button is still waiting for official confirmation that he will be replaced at Williams-BMW by Indianapolis 500 winner Juan-Pablo Montoya next season. Button is also waiting to hear if he can secure a contract with Benetton-Renault for 2001. Button gave a simple answer when asked if anything had been settled about his future: "No, not yet."
Finnish fans: The Hungarian Grand Prix traditionally has more Finnish fans than any other Grand Prix during the season. Special charters are arranged to bring the thousands of Finns to this particular race. Waving the Finnish flag of a blue cross on a white background, they cheer for fellow countrymen Mika Hakkinen and Mika Salo. A record 20,000 Finns are expected to attend this year's race. "I have been racing here for many years," Hakkinen said, "and I have had many positive experiences in Hungary. The results have always been pretty good. For example, in 1992 I finished fourth, starting from the back row, and after that I basically fell in love with Hungary and this track. "It's a good place, with some great and positive memories for me. Last year, when McLaren finished 1-2, was very special indeed, especially with about 17,000 Finns coming here to see the race. It's a great feeling to see so many Finnish fans, and to know that so many Finns have made the effort to be here." *** For the record: Williams has been the most successful team in the Hungarian Grand Prix with seven wins in the 14 races that have been held since 1986. McLaren has won the event four times, while Ferrari has two victories and Benetton one. Among the current F1 drivers, Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher each have two wins and Mika Hakkinen has one victory.
*** After the win: Rubens Barrichello has been busy since earning his first Grand Prix victory two weeks in the German Grand Prix. "I had no time to celebrate after watching the race again twice that night!" Barrichello said. "It was a great day. I just keep going back to that moment on the podium when I looked at the sky. I really felt the relief, and the weight was going away. "Then when I went to Fiorano to test on Tuesday, things seemed to have gone back to normal. But when you're driving the car, you find you're enjoying it more. I can't explain why. It just feels different."