Motor Racing: Brundle stays cool in the hot seat: Briton bullish about McLaren job as IndyCar champion makes mark

Click to follow
The Independent Online
MICHAEL SCHUMACHER may have a long way to go to stake his claim to the Formula One world championship. Arguments will continue to rage over Mika Hakkinen's part in controversial incidents with Ayrton Senna and Damon Hill in the Pacific Grand Prix here on Sunday; but the future of Martin Brundle should no longer be a subject of debate.

The 34-year-old Englishman is driving for McLaren-Peugeot on what amounts to a race-by-race basis, aware that he might, at any time, be replaced by the Frenchman, Philippe Alliot. However, Brundle's performance here has left few inside or outside the team in doubt that he is worthy of the seat.

He was on course for third place, and in with a fighting chance of second, when an overheating engine forced him to pull out of the race. An appearance on the podium would have been just reward not only for his work on the day but also for managing a difficult early phase of this Anglo-French alliance.

Brundle has given the team vital experience to complement Hakkinen's raw potential. He endured countless problems at the first race, in Brazil, without complaint, and came away with a sore head, the consequence of a crash which tipped Jos Verstappen's Benetton- Ford on top of him.

All he asks for in return is a job. A proper job. His disappointment here was balanced with satisfaction. He knew he had proved a point and had every right to demand the drive at the San Marino Grand Prix, on Sunday week. 'Hopefully,' he said, 'somebody will sit down and say, 'Stop messing Brundle about and tell him he is in the car at Imola'.'

Ron Dennis, McLaren's managing-director, has had to play an awkward political game but indicated Brundle would be granted his wish. If anything, Brundle under- sells himself. He ought to be given assurances for the entire season.

Brundle built his race here as he had done so often over the previous two seasons for Benetton and

Ligier-Renault: patiently, sensibly, then forcibly. 'It would have been nice to make the podium,' he said. 'Instead of being a great day, it was ultimately a disappointing one.

'I've driven my heart out. We had a bad first pit-stop which put me behind a lot of slower cars. As soon as I got past them I just flew. I really got into a rhythm. I set my sights on Gerhard Berger and second place. I was homing in on him. Then, my car just died an unnatural death.

'I'm happy that I gave a good performance. It was the longest run I'd had for a long time. Physically I'm in good shape and I'm looking forward to later in the year, because we'll get stronger and stronger.'

Dennis will decide whether

Brundle is racing later in the season, though the team's principal maintains the ball is still in Brundle's court. Dennis said: 'At the moment Martin is doing the job and I don't think I need to answer whether or not he will be in for the next race.

'His performances have impressed us. Purely by coincidence, he has suffered far greater problems than Mika. But his approach has been calm and he hasn't been put off.'