Motor racing: Soggy Spa a test of skills

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The Independent Online
ONE MOMENT the sun lit up motor racing's most spectacular scene, the next the rain lashed over it and sent the early arrivals scurrying for cover. Michael Schumacher's beaming countenance confirmed his approval.

Spa is Schumacher's spiritual racing home and, at its most capricious, is more comforting still. No-one is better equipped to improvise and capitalise when the best-laid plans go out of the window, hence his advance to within seven points of Mika Hakkinen at the top of the world championship.

Schumacher made a crucial stride with victory in Hungary, 12 days ago, as Hakkinen toiled to bring in his McLaren Mercedes sixth. Now the Ferrari driver believes: "There is no reason we can't perform to another victory here."

Such an outcome in Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix would be par for the course. Schumacher made his debut at the 1991 race here and qualified a remarkable seventh. A year later he returned to claim his maiden win. He was second in 1993 and has been first across the line every year since, although he was disqualified in 1994 because his Benetton was deemed illegal.

His family home is at Kerpen, just over the border in Germany, and he can expect the usual invasion from his fan club, as well as his nearest and dearest, this weekend.

He said: "History shows this is always a special place for me and I love to come back. A lot of people come from Germany to support me, so it is like a third home race for me. I love the circuit, it is really challenging and always good for me. Over the years I have had a lot of luck and fantastic races, and things come together."

This is Ferrari's 600th world championship race and, although Schumacher seemed under the impression the anniversary was due at Monza, next time out, he added: "It would be nice to get a good result for the 600th. I don't know if that means more pressure or motivation."

The tone and expression suggested motivation. The pressure just might be on the shoulders of Hakkinen. The Finn said: "There is always pressure, but the important thing is to maintain my form and get the maximum result."

Racing here is hugely dependant on a driver's ability to contend with the changing conditions. Damon Hill, fourth in Hungary, said: "We all have our weather forecasters but no-one seems to know what the weather is going to do here. I think we'll use seaweed! I've been coming here since 1986, and it has rained every year."

Hill wants to stay with Jordan next season, but team-mate Ralf Schumacher appears intent on joining Williams.