Ferrari in cruise control

Non-Championship Formula One races died out in the early Eighties, but there has been something of the same atmosphere here as a long, long season draws to a close.

Non-Championship Formula One races died out in the early Eighties, but there has been something of the same atmosphere here as a long, long season draws to a close.

Michael Schumacher, already crowned world champion after the vicissitudes of Suzuka, took his ninth pole of the year for the Malaysian Grand Prix. But as car after car embarked on a fast lap only to abort as qualifying reached its mid-point under a blanket of speed-sapping humidity, there was a suggestion that the 2000 championship had perhaps gone on one race too long.

The focus, naturally, remained on the warring Ferrari and McLaren teams. The latter came to Malaysia with a 13-point deficit to try to overcome if they were to retrieve the world championship for constructors they lost to Ferrari last year. With 16 points up for a one-two finish it was not an impossible task, but the bulletproof reliability of the red cars suggested that the three points they needed - equivalent to only a fourth place - rendered McLaren's threat distinctly academic.

Further down the pecking order, however, this final race is the last throw of the dice for Benetton, BAR and Jordan in the fight for fourth. Not, granted, a position of great prominence, but in these days of two-horse racing you take what you can get.

As Johnny Herbert was reminded by Murray Walker on Friday night, when Jaguar Racing staged an emotional This Is Your Life farewell to the 36-year-old Briton on his F1 swansong, his victory for Stewart-Ford in the 1999 Grand Prix of Europe was the last occasion on which anything other than a McLaren or a Ferrari has been first.

A one-two for Benetton would push them equal with third-placed Williams-BMW. But while that would take a seismic shift of fortune, there was a minor miracle for the Renault-owned team when Alexander Wurz sprang into a stylish and confident fifth place.

The Austrian has had a disastrous season and is headed to a testing role with McLaren in 2001 after being ousted from the team in favour of Jenson Button (who struggled to only 15th place after running out of time to set up his car). Not surprisingly, Wurz was ecstatic about this unexpected boost.

"To qualify right behind the McLarens and Ferraris is really pole position for me," he said, but otherwise it was business as usual. With the irrepressible Jacques Villeneuve pushing into sixth ahead of Eddie Irvine and Ralf Schumacher, BAR may be set to compound Jordan's Japanese nightmare by retaining fifth place overall, or perhaps even moving ahead of Benetton.

Until the dying moments Ferrari had the front row sewn up, with Rubens Barrichello setting second-fastest time, half a second adrift of his team leader. But in the space of 10 seconds his expressive face blackened as first an off-colour David Coulthard, and then Mika Hakkinen, separated them. It was the one genuinely dramatic part of the session, but with the silver arrows still half a second off Schumacher's pace, the German's chances of a record-matching ninth win of the season look rosy.

With the pressure relieved after victory in Japan, Schumacher admitted that he has really been able to enjoy his driving this weekend. "This is the ideal situation because there is no pressure. We race because we love it and you just drive to the limit for the fun of it. But we are still racing for the constructors' title and that is very important for us, although I do think it would take a miracle for us not to score those three points."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Frank Turner performing at 93 Feet East
musicReview: 93 Feet East, London
News
Toronto tops the charts across a range of indexes
news

World cities ranked in terms of safety, food security and 'liveability'

Extras
indybest
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee