Ferrari anxious to put challenge back on track

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The Independent Online

This is where it all began and this is where it must be regenerated. That is why Ferrari are surpassing even their own extravagant levels of preparation to put Michael Schumacher back on course for the World championship.

This is where it all began and this is where it must be regenerated. That is why Ferrari are surpassing even their own extravagant levels of preparation to put Michael Schumacher back on course for the World championship.

Schumacher made his Formula One debut on this, the most awesome circuit of them all, in the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix. Twelve months later he registered his maiden win here and has been successful on three subsequent visits. He says, unequivocally, this is his favourite track.

On Sunday he requires victory again to counter the ominous momentum of Mika Hakkinen's McLaren Mercedes, and to that end Ferrari have given the piggy bank an extra shake to fund the cause.

They have brought new engines for qualifying and racing, a total of five chassis for Schumacher and his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, and a dozen more engineers and mechanics.

Schumacher, who lost his lead in this season's championship for the first time in Hungary 12 days ago, said: "We'll see if we are quicker. We have made little steps forward but I don't know if it will be enough."

The German's reticence is understandable. Heading the standings by 22 points, four races back, he trails Hakkinen by two points while David Coulthard in the other McLaren is only four points behind.

McLaren are expected to be quicker here and even Spa's fabled capricious conditions may not come to the rescue this time. The forecast is for fine weather through the weekend.

At least two of the other four remaining circuits should favour McLaren, and the evidence of Budapest suggests they are superior. Ferrari's response is to throw all their resources at it and hope Schumacher, in tandem with Ross Brawn, their technical and tactical director, can conjure another piece of magic.

Coulthard has retaliation on his own agenda and for him, too, history provides a source of encouragement. The Scotsman's aggression at the first corner last year palpably de-stabilised Hakkinen and settled the outcome of a race Schumacher missed because of a broken leg. Coulthard may have to call on a similarly uncompromising manoeuvre to answer the flying starts that have propelled Hakkinen into the lead at each of the last two races.

"My last couple of starts haven't been good enough. It's not just about where you start, but where you are after the first corner," Coulthard said.

Coulthard has just returned from holiday, although he is reluctant to predict the kind of impact a rest had on Hakkinen's racing fortunes.

"I don't think having a holiday is the key to going fast," Coulthard said. "I hope to win on Sunday and don't care how. Anyone who is in front of me is my main rival, so both Mika and Michael are. I've had good races and bad races this year, but I look forward to having good races for the rest of the season."

Hakkinen is content for the others to do the chasing. He has been in this position before and made it across the line first in each of the last two championships. "The pressure is getting greater for everybody," the Finn said. "And it's going to be tougher. Leading the championship is fantastic and positive. The negative side is you have to keep it to the end, and that is hard work.

"Finding the way to win again is like a door that opens. I know what to do to be fast. But every circuit is different. Even so, I am optimistic and confident."

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