Motor racing: Brawn seeks yet another double red

Ferrari's Monaco sweep has fuelled pit guru's hopes for Italian and Mancunian victories.
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The Independent Online
WHAT WITH Ferrari's 1-2 and United's 2-1, Ross Brawn will count himself among the most contented of Mancunians.

Brawn, Ferrari's technical director, left here nursing the consequences of double celebration, having guided Michael Schumacher and Eddie Irvine to the marque's first clean sweep in the Monaco Grand Prix and then survived the tension of Manchester United's victory over Tottenham Hotspur, which returned the Premiership title to Old Trafford.

However, for both his teams in red, fulfilment has yet to be achieved, as United prepare for Saturday's FA Cup final against Newcastle and then the ultimate challenge of the European Cup final meeting with Bayern Munich a week tomorrow, their supporter in the Ferrari camp confronts a crucial, perhaps even defining stage in the Italian team's Formula One world championship campaign.

The streets of the principality proved sympathetic to the set up of the Ferrari - and the brilliance of Schumacher - while neutralising the aerodynamic excellence of the McLaren and the power of its Mercedes engine. Schumacher took full advantage, Irvine backed him up splendidly, and now the German holds a 12-point lead over the defending champion, Mika Hakkinen.

Schumacher acknowledges he will need the cushion. He begins testing in Barcelona tomorrow, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix on Sunday week, on a circuit which ought to be more accommodating to the McLaren. If Ferrari can hold their own in this race, they will have grounds for genuine optimism.

Brawn, who will be at that most famous of Catalan sporting venues, Nou Camp, for United's summit with the Bavarians, said with enormous understatement: "One way or another, it's going to be an important couple of weeks.

"Sunday was a terrific day but there's a lot to be done yet - by United as well as ourselves. We have made a fantastic start to the season, but we cannot afford any complacency and there won't be any.

"The balance of competitiveness between our car and the McLaren will swing depending on the type of circuit and the level of development. Everyone at Ferrari knows we have to work even harder to stay ahead."

Brawn, who had a significant influence on Schumacher's two championship successes with Benetton, is recognised as one of the shrewdest strategists in Formula One.

"Ross is the superstar when it comes to strategy," Irvine says. "He just tells me what to do and I drive the car."

Schumacher, too, places his faith in Brawn's pit wall intuition. Theirs is now the most potent double act in grand prix motor racing. Not that Brawn anticipates he and Schumacher will be sharing a common cause come the European Cup final.

"Michael will probably be supporting Bayern, although he's more of a player than a watcher," Brawn said. "The biggest rivalry is in my own office. My secretary is German - and a Bayern fan. We've got a bit of a side wager on the final.

"I'm used to being the odd one out here. I was out of sequence in the away leg against Juventus. Ferrari and Juve are in the same camp, of course. But they took it pretty well when I was up on my feet cheering United's win."

United will be invited to the Grand Prix as Ferrari's guests should they win the European Cup, although it is understood, the PR machinery being what it is, Bayern would also be welcome to flaunt the crown.

There is little doubt which squad Brawn would prefer to see in his pit. "For me it will be the perfect week if United and Ferrari win in Barcelona," he said.

Schumacher claims he will be satisfied simply to stay in touch with McLaren. He said: "Maybe second or third place would be good for us there. At the moment we have the cushion and I believe we will need it over the next couple of races.

"But there will be other circuits that suit us again. We are still developing the car, still progressing. The test in Barcelona will be very important."

Hakkinen concurs: "We have an intensive test programme and we are also progressing. I see the future as more optimistic for us."

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