Mika's still in the fight, says Schumacher

Formula 1 World Championship leader Michael Schumacher believes Mika Hakkinen is still a contender in the fight for this year's drivers' crown, despite a beleaguered start to the season - but the next few races could be make-or-break for the Finn

Mika's still in the fight, says Schumacher

Hakkinen and Schumacher have been a class apart in the battle for the world championship over the last three years, but Hakkinen has scored just four points in the first five races of 2001, compared to Schumacher's total of 36 and McLaren team mate David Coulthard's tally of 28.

Hakkinen came close to taking his first win since August last year at last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, but retired with clutch failure on the last lap. Schumacher believes the double world champ cannot be written off, but the next two or three Grands Prix could be crucial.

"To be honest, for me Mika was never gone [from the top]," said Schumacher. "I always said the main rivalry this year would be between him and me. We still have 12 races to go and everything is still possible. But if you look at the point situation, we will have to see what happens in the next two or three races.

Schumacher, who is back behind the wheel of his Ferrari today (Friday) testing at Fiorano, believes that the development of tyres and electronics will be key to who takes the upper hand in the forthcoming races.

Teams are working flat out as they attempt to develop their newly-legalised traction control systems, while tyre development continues unabated as Michelin and Bridgestone go head-to-head.

"The most important factor is always a combination of things," said Schumacher. "Obviously we have the tyre competition. We will find out which one is going to take the upper hand. There has been some variation in performance and it will be interesting to see the next races."

The Formula 1 circus heads to Austria's A1-Ring next weekend, a circuit at which Schumacher has failed to perform in recent years. Despite never having won there, the German heads to Spielburg in confident mood.

"We have never won in Austria simply because of circumstances," he said. "You cannot win every race and we had some bad luck, like last year. We don't look at that race like we have never won it and so we desperately want to. We always want to win any race we can."

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