Motor racing: Goodyear make epic exit

In the shadows of the Hakkinen-Schumacher showdown, one of the drama's leading players heads for the wings

NO SOONER will the issue of the 1998 World Championship be settled here in Suzuka today, than the focus will shift forwards to 1999. In the case of Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Ralf Schumacher, they will scarcely have time to take off their damp overalls before each dons fresh virgin- white sets as they prepare to begin their programmes for next year.

The two German drivers will be swapping teams next year, Schumacher to join Williams, Frentzen to take Schumacher's seat at Jordan. On Tuesday and Wednesday each will drive the other's car in the first steps of their acclimatisation to new teams, and to Bridgestone tyres.

The Japanese Grand Prix marked the end of an era, as the Goodyear tyre company prepared to withdraw from Formula One after an almost unbroken spell since their debut in 1965. Back then the Akron company provided the rubber for Honda, who were, like Ferrari, at that time a manufacturer of their own chassis and engine. At the end of a promising year came the first victory for both parties, in Mexico City, courtesy of the American Richie Ginther. The first World Championship followed in 1966, as Jack Brabham took his eponymous car to his own third title. Since then Goodyear's successes have far outstripped those of even their closest rivals, but more than that the company have been a true friend to Formula One, supporting it in the darkest hours.

But in 1999 Formula One will revert to a monopoly situation regarding tyre supply, which is a possible cause for concern after the way Goodyear have fought back this season against the initially dominant Bridgestone to enliven what at one stage seemed likely to be a very dull championship.

"I have great experiences with Goodyear," Michael Schumacher said. "Personally, I didn't expect the improvement they achieved for us, and I'm very sad that they are leaving. With a single-tyre competition next year we will find out just how good our car is compared to McLaren."

Yesterday Goodyear helped the Ferrari driver to his 20th pole position and set up the perfect battle for the World Championship, as Mika Hakkinen comfortably outpaced Eddie Irvine to take the other front-row starting position.

For this all-important contest Ferrari had prepared special qualifying engines, said to give close to 800bhp, and while they would not be raced, the plan was that they would help in the quest for the fastest qualifying time.

In the event, there were mixed feelings over their effectiveness, but there was no doubting Schumacher's determination and commitment. He was the last driver to venture out in qualifying, calmly leaving his first run until 20 minutes of the allotted hour had gone by. At that stage Hakkinen was quickest, but with the minimum of fuss the Ferrari pilot asserted his authority, and defended it as Hakkinen counter-attacked with gusto. The contest for fastest time remained their exclusive preserve, on a track where fortune favours the brave. More than once, Hakkinen bettered Schumacher's section times, but when his last effort saw him come perilously close to disaster after momentarily leaving the road in the corner named after the motorcycle ace Ernst Degner, Schumacher could finally relax.

"Of course it's nice to be on pole position," he said. But with Hakkinen so close he was not about to go overboard. "This is only qualifying," he added cautiously, "so we mustn't get too excited." Irvine's failure to join him at the front left him in a vulnerable position, for Hakkinen needed only second place to clinch the title. The Ulsterman's afternoon was a blend of reasonable, if not outstanding, laps, and the frustration of yellow flags as other drivers went off.

But Schumacher's speed enabled the Ferrari president, Luca di Montezemolo, who made a rare public appearance at a race in support of the team he has brought back from the brink of ridicule in the early Nineties, to relax momentarily. At one stage the Italian aristocrat was seen seizing the arm of his phlegmatic sporting director Jean Todt as FIA officials insisted on a routine check of the eligibility of Schumacher's car.

By his own admission, di Montezemolo is too nervous to watch a race in company - "I get too emotional, and I don't want anybody to see that" - and he planned to seal himself in a private trackside office by the time the showdown started.

Further down the pit lane, the McLaren chief Ron Dennis had watched Hakkinen's every move with his customary poker player's stare.

Dennis once famously admitted that the first feeling he experiences on the day after a race his cars have failed to win is pain. As the climax to an extraordinary season drew closer he and di Montezemolo had reached the same moment of truth facing Schumacher and Hakkinen: the last round of the epic mano a mano contest. The apogee of success for one, the despair of failure for the other.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on