Motor racing: Hakkinen's show of domination

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The Independent Online
HE would say that wouldn't he, but Mika Hakkinen predicted that tomorrow's Canadian Grand Prix would be one of the most competitive races of the season, despite his domination of yesterday's opening practice sessions at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in his McLaren.

The Finnish world championship leader, who had to work hard to deny Germany's Michael Schumacher the top spot for Ferrari, spun off the track twice and brushed the barriers at high speed before setting his best lap near the end of practice.

He beat Schumacher by 0.386 seconds, but Hakkinen made it clear that he felt Ferrari, Benetton and his own McLaren team-mate, David Coulthard, were still major threats.

"I would expect it to be really competitive," said Hakkinen, who leads the world championship by 17 points from Coulthard. "What we have seen earlier this season is that it has been myself, David, Ferrari and Benetton fighting for the wins. I don't think that will be changing this weekend."

Schumacher's improved form, which is the result of developments to his car and a new tyre from Goodyear, has lifted his hopes of gatecrashing the race for the championship.

His British team-mate, Eddie Irvine, had said in the build-up to the race that if Ferrari were not competitive on this circuit they could forget about winning the title.

"We are where I hoped we would be, but it is not easy to find the right set-up at the moment because of the windy conditions," Schumacher said.

Frenchman Jean Alesi in a Sauber, who won his maiden grand prix in Canada in 1995, was a surprise third fastest thanks to revised rear suspension on his car. Coulthard could manage no better than fourth.

Local hero Jacques Villeneuve failed to live up to his pre-event optimism by ending up 16th fastest overall. He also caused practice to be halted for nine minutes when he stopped his Williams on the track with mechanical problems.

A number of drivers spun their cars as they found their limits on the dusty track. The Brazilian Rubens Barrichello in the Stewart and Britain's Johnny Herbert in the Sauber both broke off the nose cones their cars in separate accidents.

In the pit lane, surprise has greeted the imminent split between Ford and engine supplier Cosworth, as a relationship that dates back 35 years is about to be severed by VW's acquisition of the engineering company. Though there have been rumours for many months now of a parting between the two partners, when the news broke that VW had beaten BMW in the fight to buy Rolls-Royce, it was the talk of the paddock. VW's lucrative offer to acquire Cosworth as well is believed to have been influential in swaying shareholders in Vickers, the parent company of Rolls and Cosworth, to accept the VW bid.

When Ford took the ambitious decision to enter F1 back in 1967, it allocated Cosworth founders Keith Duckworth and Mike Costin a budget of pounds 100,000 to design and develop a three-litre V8 engine. The Ford Cosworth DFV won on its debut in Jim Clark's Lotus 49 at the 1967 Dutch Grand Prix. Overnight Ford's image was revolutionised.

CANADIAN GRAND PRIX (Montreal): Leading times after yesterday's unofficial practice session: 1 M Hakkinen (Finland) McLaren 1min 19.613sec (av speed 124.246mph/199.912kph); 2 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:19.999; 3 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber 1:20.252; 4 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren 1:20.316; 5 G Fisichella (It) Benetton 1:20.480; 6 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Williams 1:20.622; 7 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 1:20.821; 8 R Barrichello (Bra) Stewart 1:20.937; 9 D Hill (GB) Jordan 1:21.069; 10 O Panis (Fr) Prost 1:21.191; 11 J Herbert (GB) Sauber 1:21.239; 12 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton 1:21.274; 13 J Trulli (It) Prost 1:21.282; 14 R Schumacher (Ger) Jordan 1:21.294; 15 T Takagi (Japan) Tyrrell 1:21.370; 16 J Villeneuve (Can) Williams 1:21.597; 17 M Salo (Finland) Arrows 1:21.962; 18 P Diniz (Bra) Arrows 1:22.100; 19 S Nakano (Japan) Minardi 1:22.137 (193.768); 20 E Tuero (Arg) Minardi 1:22.425; 21 R Rosset (Bra) Tyrrell 1:23.01; 22 J Magnussen (Den) Stewart 1:23.146.

canadian grand prix

Circuit length: 4.421km

(2.747 miles)

Distance: 69 laps

(305.049km (189.553 miles)

1997 details

1 M Schumacher (Ferrari)

2 J Alesi (Benetton)

3 G Fisichella (Jordan)

Pole position: Schumacher 1min 18.095sec

Fastest lap: D Couthard (McLaren) 1min 19.635sec, lap 37 (ave speed 199.856kph, 124.185mph)