Motor racing: Stewart boosted by season's first points

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT was business as usual in the McLaren-Mercedes camp and the scene reflected that: no excessive celebrations, no gloating, no flaunting. Another one-two had been clinically accomplished, time to pack up and head for the next race.

Evidence of spilling emotions was to be found along the pit-lane, at Stewart-Ford: jubilation, relief, and a discernible sense of vindication. Theirs was the unscripted triumph of the Spanish Grand Prix.

Jackie Stewart arrived here facing an inquisition and there were those who relished his public discomfiture. Was his team up to it? Was he up to it? Ford were among those doubtless listening for the answers.

But then Rubens Barrichello, the Brazilian driver who delivered the team's only other points, from that remarkable second place at Monaco, a year earlier, produced a little gem of a drive, fending off the world champion, Jacques Villeneuve and his Williams, to bring home the white car in fifth place. Stewart, three times world champion as a driver, gratefully embraced the two points as if they were his first.

"The last few weeks have been murder," he said. "We needed a good result here and we've got it."

The late completion of this year's car, the laborious move to a new factory, and Jan Magnussen's early poor form combined to intensify the pressure on Stewart.

"It's stressful enough moving home," he said. "Imagine what it's like moving an entire race team. It's been very difficult for us. But for all that I've never had second thoughts about going ahead with this. I've had ups and downs throughout my career.

"I know people were looking for me to fail when I came back into Formula One, but you always get that. It doesn't concern me. They said the same when we set up Paul Stewart Racing 10 years ago and we've run 12 championships and 122 races with that team.

"We also have a good team here. We have the resources and the facilities. Next month we will have our test team in place and that is something we've obviously needed.

"Success at this level isn't achieved overnight. We can't expect to take on the Ferraris, Benettons and Saubers of this world straight away. We're still finding our feet."

Barrichelo's application this season has helped sustain the team's optimism through the trials and Magnussen, who almost lost his job a fortnight ago, bought himself a little more time in the car by finishing Sunday's race, albeit a distant 12th.

"The really pleasing thing is that Rubens managed to keep Villeneuve behind him for the whole race," Stewart said. "During the last third of the race, I was incredibly tense.

"It was great that Jan finished. We just have to get his head in shape. We don't want to change him if he can get his act together, and maybe this is the start for him."

Stewart returns to Monte Carlo, on Sunday week, in good heart while others hope the unique nature of the principality's street circuit will provide him with the opportunity of closing the gap on McLaren.

Mikka Hakkinen's success, here, ahead of his team-mate David Coulthard, was as resounding as it was anticipated by most.

Ferrari will have to find significant improvements if Michael Schumacher is to summon any sustained threat to McLaren and force Ron Dennis to concentrate his team's efforts on one of their drivers. Otherwise, Formula One is looking to Coulthard to challenge Hakkinen and make a spectacle of the champion.

Dennis said: "I hope we have the problem of how we will handle which of the two will be going for the world championship, but at this stage that would be too presumptuous.

"They are comfortable with each other. We will not step in with any instructions because it is not necessary as it was at the start of the season."

McLaren have discovered the once elusive reliability to match their performance, and just now that is proving an irresistible formula.