Motor Racing: Hakkinen finds silver lining

German Grand Prix: McLarens take front of grid as Schumacher finds little home comfort

AND so to Hockenheim, the flat-out blast between the pine trees that, 30 seasons ago, claimed the life of the great Jim Clark. Here, this weekend, may turn the fortunes of a World Championship that has developed into a two-horse race between Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher. Even David Coulthard, with the fastest times in free practice, acknowledged that his own title aspirations have all but gone after a season of wretched fortune. "To draw level with Mika I'd have to win the next three races without him scoring a point," he said. "That's a bit unrealistic."

It is more likely that Schumacher, however, might fail to score points, for the crowd's favourite lies a distant ninth as the McLarens share the front row. Schumacher spun on his first lap of the day, and later his Ferrari succumbed to engine failure. The former champion was always on the back foot after that, and was left trailing as he tried vainly to make up for lost time. He hasn't qualified this badly since Monza last year.

Instead of Ferrari challenging McLaren, Jacques Villeneuve celebrated an upturn in fortune in a revitalised Williams. Anyone tempted to doubt the world champion's commitment in a so far troubled season would have been served humble pie while watching as he pushed within half a second of the silver cars in the sort of display of brio that made his late father the crowd's darling. "We were fighting all the way through," Villeneuve said with the smile of a man relieved to be back at the sharp end, "and even took the McLarens at one point. This is the first time I have enjoyed driving a Williams with low down-force configuration."

The session was important, too, for Damon Hill, whose contractual negotiations with Jordan have reached critical mass. His situation is reminiscent of that once faced by the American hydroplane champion Bill Muncey, who remarked to his team owner Lee Schoenith: "Will you still love me when I'm not winning?" To which Schoenith replied: "Sure. But I'll miss ya."

Hill was employed by Jordan and Benson & Hedges to win races, but thus far has not even scored a point. He is facing the prospect of a dramatic salary reduction next season if he stays with the team, though this may take the form of a payment-per-point structure. To make matters worse, his team-mate Ralf Schumacher has scored three in the last two races, and lies just ahead of him. Compared to Jordan's early-season form, however, fourth and fifth places on the grid are manna from heaven. "I'm very pleased," Hill said, visibly relaxed. "Part of me had hoped for more, but I think we have to be pleased with what we got. To see both cars up there in the top six, well in touch with the class of the field, is great."

The subject of team orders has been much in people's minds this weekend. Earlier this year, Coulthard displayed remarkable character by obeying team orders and handing victory in the season-opening Australian race to Hakkinen. FIA subsequently declared such race practice detrimental to the sport. A week ago we were thus treated to a ludicrous pantomime in Austria as Schumacher, delayed by an off-track excursion, charged after team-mate Eddie Irvine. How would Ferrari couch the reason for the Ulsterman slowing sufficiently for his boss to sweep by? Ah, a brake problem. Irvine did what was expected of him, and Schumacher got the extra point that may yet prove critical. Irvine even managed to keep a straight face later, but the man from the brake supplier Brembo took a while to see the funny side. FIA has since declared that team orders are allowed, if they can be justified by the situation pertaining to the World Championship. So now, if Coulthard were to gift another race to Hakkinen, it would be all right.

Back in 1956 Peter Collins did not simply move over for his Ferrari team- mate Juan Manuel Fangio during the Italian GP; the Briton actually handed over his Lancia-Ferrari to the Argentine so that he could secure his fourth World Championship. Collins, unable to see a future in which death would claim him at the Nurburgring only two years hence, justified his action by declaring his youth to be on his side. This is not an easy time for Coulthard, who put ink to paper on a fresh contract yesterday, as did team-mate Hakkinen. The knowledge that not just Schumacher, but Villeneuve too, were on Ron Dennis's shopping list was a cause for concern, but his future at McLaren now looks secure for at least another season.

Yesterday an engine failure stymied his strong challenge for pole position, obliging him to slap on a brave face as he tried in vain to wrestle a better time out of a spare McLaren that was set up for his Finnish team- mate. "Of course it's a disappointing result for me," he admitted, in what has become a mantra for his 1998 season, "but it is good to be back on the front row of the grid again."

This afternoon he faces yet another dilemma. If he pushes on to win, with Hakkinen second, he will in effect have lost the Finn four points at a time when Schumacher appears to be struggling. So the inference is that he ought to defer to Hakkinen again even though another victory would be the perfect antidote to his own misfortunes. It is a burdensome position for one of the paddock's most honourable characters.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Life and Style
Pick of the bunch: Sudi Pigott puts together roasted tomatoes with peppers, aubergines and Labneh cheese for a tomato-inspired vegetarian main dish
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape