Motor racing: Ferrari applause led by Irvine

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The Independent Online
ITALIAN SPORT has good reason to be gloating: extraordinary success for their tiros on bikes, a quarter-final place in the World Cup and the first Ferrari one-two triumph in Formula One for eight years.

Whether or not Cesare Maldini's charges are still actively involved come the final, on Sunday week, the nation has been promised more jubilation that day. Eddie Irvine, whose selfless drive provided Michael Schumacher with the opportunity to take command of the French Grand Prix here, predicts the same again at Silverstone.

McLaren-Mercedes are in need of remedial treatment in the British Grand Prix and not unreasonably expect to have a performance advantage on home ground. However, Irvine unequivocally forecasts: "Michael will destroy the McLarens at Silverstone."

The Ulsterman's optimism is based on Ferrari's sustained improvement, their reliability, their strategic acumen and above all the brilliance of Schumacher. The German now trails Mika Hakkinen, a frustrated third here by six points and heads David Coulthard, an exasperated sixth here, by 14 points.

The British Grand Prix is one of only two regular races (the other being Australia) Schumacher has not won. Should he now equal Nigel Mansell's career total of 31 victories McLaren would surely fear the worst. Irvine, for one, believes the championship trend is now unstoppable.

"McLaren have missed the boat and now its ours," he said. "That's the way I see it. I said before this race Michael was going to win and he did. And we're going to get better.

"Silverstone will be more of a race, but he'll put them in the shade. They may be quicker in qualifying but when it comes to the race there's only one winner. It's the difference between quality and the rest."

Irvine's quality, as well as his conduct, has been questioned over the years but his dutiful support of the team's No 1 is earning him new admirers and could arm Schumacher with decisive weaponry.

"I feel I'm getting more credit than in the past," he said. "People just don't realise how good Michael is. It can demotivate you when you see what he's doing. You either lie down or keep working at it. I don't want to lie down. I want to beat him. So finishing second is no big deal. He was pushing and I wasn't. The championship for me is over. I won't win it.

"We've made a lot of progress and still need some improvements before we're 100 per cent competitive with McLaren everywhere. We're not going to stop working. The gap is not so big and we can beat them on strategy."

Coulthard reluctantly accepts nothing short of victory at Silverstone will resuscitate his championship prospects after falling foul of fate for three consecutive races.

"This is the big one for me," the Scotsman said. "In pure racing terms I guess you have to say I've got to win. I need to send out the right message to everyone else. The one thing I mustn't do is start thinking luck's run out on me. The worst thing I can do is to feel sorry for myself. I have to keep in a positive frame of mind. I don't want people to get the impression I am a whinger.

"I'm still going to be in there fighting. I've got only one win and want more. I'm not going to back off. I want to show I can win races again and I don't think things are beyond me."