Motor racing: Irvine flying as Hakkinen hits gravel

McLaren's troubles continue in Hungary as world champion slides off in practice after early spin

PERHAPS THE season is taking its toll. From the reigning champion to Britain's last champion the vagaries of the campaign appear to be gnawing at the nerve ends.

Mika Hakkinen, who dare not lose more ground to Eddie Irvine here, could only watch as the Ulsterman went to the top of yesterday's timesheet with his final lap.

Hakkinen had abandoned his McLaren-Mercedes in a gravel trap in unofficial practice for tomorrow's Hungarian Grand Prix. He was not alone in succumbing to tricky conditions, and the list of casualties accelerated as drizzle fell in the later stages.

However, Hakkinen had also spun during the morning session, interrupting a programme planned to reassert the team's authority over Ferrari. The mishaps may ultimately prove as meaningless as much of Friday's proceedings, but suddenly the doubts are creeping in.

Hakkinen's misfortune in the last three races, which reached a terrifying climax with his tyre blow-out at Hockenheim, leave him eight points behind Irvine.

Given normal circumstances, and the absence of Michael Schumacher, the Finn would expect to win here, followed by his team-mate David Coulthard. But normality is an elusive scenario this summer and the rain clouds closing in on what has historically been one of the hottest races on the grand prix circuit, served to underline the point.

Hakkinen said: "I'm worried but I have to stay cool to try and get some points. I will be driving to the maximum and hopefully the car will stay together.

"At the start of the season I thought defending the title would be easy. What's happened is surprising, but if the last two grands prix had gone to plan I'd still be ahead. Now I'm hungry for the fight."

Hakkinen remains anxious to hear an explanation for his tyre failure a fortnight ago. "We have to find a solution," he said. "We still have to go to Monza, where the lap time is even faster than Hockenheim."

Coulthard was third fastest yesterday, followed by the consistent Reubens Barrichello in a Stewart-Ford, Mika Salo in the second Ferrari and Heinz- Harald Frentzen of Jordan. Damon Hill in the other Jordan, was a distant and seemingly forlorn 16th when he spun off the circuit.

The Hungaroring has, since his first visit in 1992, been a productive hunting ground for Hill, yet he arrives this time struggling for form, conviction and motivation. He pulled out of the German Grand Prix adamant that his brakes were not safe, while the team insisted there was no such problem with the car.

His boss, Eddie Jordan, could not suppress his concern yesterday. Frentzen is third in the drivers' standings with 33 points, guiding the team towards the same position in the constructors' championship. Hill is 10th on five points.

Jordan said: "At the moment Heinz-Harald is doing an outstanding job. Damon is fraught with all sorts of problems. He is not giving what we initially expected of him. There have been a lot of things that have caused these problems. When things do go right for him he does a very good job."

Hill, who marched away from Hockenheim with a face like thunder, now says the difference of opinion over the brakes was misunderstood and he wished to consign it to history. He was, however, forthright about the present state of play.

He said: "I feel I've gone from Roadrunner to Wiley Coyote. Nothing I do seems to work. I've lost my temper a few times. I wouldn't be a racing driver if I didn't have that aggression in me. I'm doing my best and sooner or later my luck will change. The car is better this year than last year and that makes it more difficult to bear. I've got a minimum of points compared with Heinz. I feel I am not delivering and that makes it awkward knowing I've not fulfilled my potential. It's been quite a disappointing year. When I have had opportunities I've not done as well as I'd hoped. There is no reason why I can't reproduce the form I know I am capable of."

Hill, the 1996 champion, believes this could be the crucial race in Irvine's title quest. He said: "If Eddie can extend his lead here then that might just be the margin to see him through. He needs every point to beat Mika. Eddie has a tenuous grip on the championship and there will be pressure from Ferrari and all Italy. He might never be in this position again. The contemplation of failure is the big risk and the sort of thing that puts on the pressure."

OPENING PRACTICE TIMES

HUNGARIAN GRAND PRIX (Hungaroring) Unofficial practice: 1 E Irvine (GB) Ferrari 1min 19.476sec (ave spd 179.963kph); 2 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren- Mercedes 1:19.792; 3 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes 1:20.117; 4 R Barrichello (Brazil) Stewart-Ford 1:20.547; 5 M Salo (Fin) Ferrari 1:20.989; 6 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1:21.185; 7 A Zanardi (It) Williams- Supertec 1:21.251; 8 A Wurz (Aut) Benetton-Supertec 1:21.456; 9 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-Supertec 1:21.481; 10 J Herbert (GB) Stewart-Ford 1:21.486; 11 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR-Supertec 1:21.504; 12 O Panis (Fr) Prost-Peugeot 1:21.525; 13 L Badoer (It) Minardi-Ford 1:21.635; 14 G Fisichella (It) Benetton-Supertec 1:21.673; 15 J Alesi (Fr) Sauber-Petronas 1:22.009; 16 D Hill (GB) Jordan-Mugen-Honda 1:22.182; 17 R Zonta (Bra) BAR-Supertec 1:22.290; 18 J Trulli (It) Prost-Peugeot 1:22.360; 19 M Gene (Sp) Minardi- Ford 1:22.380; 20 P Diniz (Bra) Sauber-Petronas 1:23.096; 21 T Takagi (Japan) Arrows 1:23.216; 22 P De la Rosa (Sp) Arrows 1:24.064.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker