MOTOR RACING: Hakkinen set for attack on Schumacher

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The Independent Online
MIKA HAKKINEN missed the dramatic final act at the Nou Camp, but found ample consolation in the result. Anything short of victory for the Finn here on Sunday could prove as devastating as those two late goals by Manchester United against Bayern Munich.

Hakkinen, we are led to believe, is something of a United fan, although he admits this was the first big match he had ever been to. Another German, Michael Schumacher, stands in the path of Hakkinen's sporting cause in the Spanish Grand Prix and he can scarcely afford to be contained.

Schumacher, winner of the last two races, the San Marino and Monaco Grands Prix, leads Hakkinen by 12 points in the Formula One World Championship standings, but knows the McLaren-Mercedes ought to reassert its supremacy over the Ferrari on this circuit. If that does not prove to be the case then McLaren and Hakkinen will realise they have serious problems defending their titles.

Hakkinen said: "It wouldn't be a disaster if we didn't win this race, but it would be very close to it. We have done plenty of testing here and have been able to get a good balance on the car, so I am quite confident.

"Formula One can change so quickly. Michael is leading because of the last two races, that's all. In another two races I could turn it round again. We have had reliability problems because the car is so complicated. More so than last season. That makes it fragile. It takes people longer to understand it, to learn and make it reliable. But we are working hard as a team. I would not want to sound critical because I know how much effort the team are putting in."

Schumacher acknowledges he will be hard pressed to sustain his championship advantage here, yet is content with Ferrari's progress. He said: "As expected, Monaco was a good circuit for us, while this is probably the worst. It will be a difficult weekend for us. Here it is flat, less bumpy, with faster speeds and corners. It is completely different. This favours the McLaren, but it is not impossible for us to improve."

Or for Schumacher and his technical director, Ross Brawn, to improvise, or for the heavens to intervene, as the Germans suspect they did in the European Cup final on Wednesday evening. Schumacher does not, however, anticipate mechanical intervention from any other team than McLaren.

The season has settled into a predictable duel between Ferrari and McLaren, and the man recognised as the world's outstanding driver envisages no change to that scenario. He said: "If you look at the points situation you would have to say it's down to four people, two from Ferrari and two from McLaren."

Eddie Irvine, Ferrari's No 2, is currently second in the championship but represents no threat to Schumacher. David Coulthard, having been unable to finish in three of the four races, in the other McLaren, is already under pressure to mount a credible challenge.

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