Hakkinen win spurs Ferrari to rethink strategy

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The Independent Online

They carried Mika Hakkinen into the McLaren-Mercedes motor home, shoulder-high and then indulged in more champagne-spraying fun and frolics. The victory was as sweet and overdue as it was emphatic.

A few paces away, in the subdued atmosphere of the Ferrari camp, Jean Todt, the Italian team's sporting director, was accepting defeat graciously, but rejecting any notion that he and his colleagues had considered their job was done.

"Once you think it's easy, it gets difficult,'' maintained Todt as he analysed Ferrari's short-comings at the British Grand Prix. Although Michael Schumacher's second place and David Coulthard's retirement on Sunday had ushered the German a significant step closer to his fourth world championship, the evidence of the race suggested the contest might at least be prolonged.

Schumacher heads the Scotsman by 37 points, with six races remaining, or 60 points to compete for. In the constructors' standings, Ferrari lead McLaren by 52 points. But at Silverstone McLaren and Hakkinen recovered their pace and their poise, while Ferrari were strangely sluggish. "Maybe the outside world needed to be reminded that McLaren were still dangerous, but we did not,'' Todt said. "We always thought McLaren had the pace. They have had some bad luck, as has happened to us in the past.

"It is not a matter of motivation. McLaren are strong and Mika is a great driver. I am pleased for him that he has a win. We have always known how good they are and never listened to what other people felt. We never under-estimated him. Which is maybe one of our strengths. It makes us focus.''

Ferrari will focus on the rare technical and tactical errors that undermined Schumacher's attempt to equal Alain Prost's all-time record of 51 Formula One wins at Silverstone. Todt acknowledged that his team's one-stop pit strategy did not work and that they had failed to achieve an optimum set-up for the scarlet car.

Ferrari and McLaren are testing at Monza this week, in preparation for the German Grand Prix, at the high speed circuit of Hockenheim, on Sunday week.

Todt said: "Since 1997 we have had a team, a car and an engine to compete for the championship, and this season Michael's record speaks for itself. He has six first places and four seconds from 11 races. His advantage in the championship is almost four races with six to go, so the mathematics say he is close to winning the championship.

"But although we have this advantage, the race at Silverstone shows it is still not enough. I like to win. That is why we are here.''

Todt's opposite number at McLaren, Ron Dennis, savoured the home success but acknowledged Ferrari's display probably distorted the picture. "We have improved our performance, although I have to say Ferrari did a bad job and maybe made us look better than we actually were," he said. "But that won't stop us enjoying our victory. The championship may now be more difficult for David, but it is still not over.''

Coulthard and Schumacher echo that sentiment. The former remains, in public at any rate, defiant and the latter, who broke his leg at Silverstone two years ago, judiciously cautious.

Hakkinen was apparently prepared to hand victory to his team-mate on Sunday and will doubtless endeavour to support his cause through the rest of the campaign. Should McLaren reel off a series of one-two finishes they might yet make the champion nervous.

Williams-BMW, who were a little less menacing than of late, at Silverstone, should be up with Ferrari and McLaren at Hockenheim, where the temperature tends to rise with the speed.

Juan Pablo Montoya appears to be adding judgement and consistency to his undoubted pace and combativeness, and Ralf Schumacher will be just as determined as his brother to seek victory on home ground.

The elder Schumacher said: "Anything could still happen. Of course the position is good for us, but it can change. I haven't won the championship. We have seen in the past and we saw it again at Silverstone – nothing is certain. But over the season we have done an outstanding job and you win a championship over a season.''

Hakkinen, relieved to have his first win in 11 months, cautioned against escalating expectation. "This is great after all the problems I have had,'' the Finn said. "But we can't say this means we are ahead of Ferrari.

"We'll have to see what happens at Hockenheim. It is a different grand prix, with different circumstances. And it could be a completely different race.''

Schumacher and Coulthard have reason to hope he is right.