German Grand Prix Preview

Michael Schumacher needs to reclaim the initiative from McLaren if he is to keep his points lead - and his home territory at Hockenheim would be the ideal place and time. The German, just six points clear in the championship, has not won his home Grand Prix since 1995, but is fired up after apparently losing the title initiative to McLaren drivers Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard

German Grand Prix Preview

Schumacher's title challenge is in need of a boost, as the German has only accumulated 10 points from the last four races. However, Ferrari claim their F1-2000 has not lost a great deal of pace relative to the McLaren since Schumacher's last win back in the middle of June. "We have lost a little bit of ground, and we will have to work hard to catch up," said Schumacher, "but we are not in a crisis."

The Ferrari ace started the season on good form, with three straight wins followed by a third place, a second place and another victory at the Nurburgring. However, in the four races since then, Schumacher has had three failures to score. Although Schumacher grabbed 10 points in Montreal, this was unrepresentative because Schumacher's team-mate Rubens Barrichello slowed to allow the German to take ten points after his car developed a fault.

The McLaren drivers on the other hand, have made hay while the sun shone. Hakkinen scored a dominant victory in Austria at the A1 Ring two weeks ago, and even if Schumacher's race had not ended at the first corner after an altercation with Ricardo Zonta's BAR, there is no reason to suggest Hakkinen would have been any more troubled than he was.

Hakkinen had been beset by rumours that he was burnt-out, or had given up for the year. A short holiday was prescribed, and by Austria, the Finn's scintillating pace was everything it once was.

"The championship is getting exciting now, and with seven races to go, anything can happen," said Hakkinen. "I like Hockenheim as it is a challenging circuit, and the atmosphere is amazing. I have had pole position for the last two years and will be keen to make it three in a row."

The important thing for Hakkinen is converting that promise into hard results; though he won in 1998, he failed to finish last year after a tyre blew out at nearly 200mph.

The Finn's team-mate David Coulthard has been all but a match for Schumacher over the last five races, and should not be discounted. However, the fact that even he could not keep up with the flying Hakkinen suggests just how quick the Finn was. If this form can be translated into Hockenheim pace, Hakkinen will be hard to touch. But Coulthard has a good record at fast tracks such as Hockenheim and Monza. "Hockenheim is one of the quickest tracks on the calendar, and we reach speeds in excess of 350kmh," said Coulthard. "It is fun and fast," he added, clearly revelling in the characteristics of the track.

...And don't forget Coulthard's slipstreaming brilliance at Silverstone, where he overtook Barrichello for the lead on the Hangar straight.

It was to Silverstone that many of the teams turned for pre-Hockenheim preparation. McLaren was among them, and seemed not only dominant in terms of pace but only had one car failure at the end of three days of hard running.

This will be of worry to Ferrari, who have seem to have lost the almost freakish reliability they have been able to display over the last three years. Barrichello suffered engine failure in Brazil and gearbox failure in Britain. Schumacher's engine let him down in France, and the team claims to have solved suspension problems that stymied them in Monaco. McLaren, by contrast, started the season with a notably fragile car, which has developed far greater durability as the season progressed.

"Hockenheim is very tough on the engine, which is running longer at high revs than any other circuit we visit," explains Michael Schumacher. "This track is also tough on brakes which have to be used from very high speed as hard as possible four times a lap.

"It is essential to have good braking throughout the race as it is almost impossible to keep your place if the next car can brake any later," he warns.

Of the rest of the field, likely performers are hard to pin down. The midfield has been erratic this season, throwing several teams to the fore but none with any consistency. BAR has topped the 'best-of-the-rest' slot for two races in a row now, and the top-end power of the Honda engine is believed to be prodigious. Jacques Villeneuve tends to respond well to the uncompromising approach required by the track, and could be in the frame once more. He will be aided by another evolution of the rapidly improving Honda V10 to be introduced this weekend, the RA000E.

At a track such as Hockenheim, engine power can be paramount, while chassis deficiencies are masked to a certain extent. Jordan could, therefore, also be in the frame, its Mugen supplied engine not far away from the specification of the BAR units. In addition, good traction with low aerodynamic drag is conducive to a good lap time, which could favour Jaguar, at least in qualifying. The team believes itself to have a quick car, but with reliability problems has been unable to demonstrate them. However, both Jaguars finished the Austrian Grand Prix which represents a minor breakthrough for the team. Eddie Irvine is back fit from his mysterious stomach problem, so if the Jaguar can withstand the engine breaking straights of Hockenheim, the team will stand a very good chance of picking up points.

"We're hoping for a good weekend, after a very productive Silverstone test," said Jaguar technical director Gary Anderson. "If we can carry the work we did at the test through to Hockenheim then we can expect a solid performance."

And let's not forget BMW WilliamsF1. BMW and Ralf Schumacher will want to do well in front of their home crowd. And despite Schumacher having a horrendous time in Austria, Jenson Button did finish in the points to give Williams third place in the constructors' table. Button has won at Hockenheim in his Formula Ford days, and Schumacher has been in the points at all his previous German Grands Prix, so Williams might be a good each way bet for Sunday.

Last year Ferrari scored a one-two, when Mika Salo, under team orders, let Eddie Irvine through. This year team orders could again play a significant role. Michael Schumacher knows he just has the one major opponent at Hockenheim - McLaren, be it either Hakkinen or Coulthard. The Woking team, on the other hand, has decided to let both drivers have a free reign in the championship fight. But Hakkinen and Coulthard fighting with each other could well play into Ferrari's hand.

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