Schumacher gets back on target

Outwardly, the signs are hard to detect. The thrust of the famous chin remains as proud as ever, the walk retains the typical racing driver's jauntiness. Over dinner with friends, he looks relaxed. But however he likes to slice it, these are tough times for Michael Schumacher.

Outwardly, the signs are hard to detect. The thrust of the famous chin remains as proud as ever, the walk retains the typical racing driver's jauntiness. Over dinner with friends, he looks relaxed. But however he likes to slice it, these are tough times for Michael Schumacher.

Three easy victories at the start of the year gave the German a healthy lead in the World Championship, and two more along the way helped him to maintain it, even through a run of bad luck saw him lose a deserved triumph in Monaco, at least second place in France, and then wrote him out of the races in Austria and Germany via first-corner accidents.

It was not until the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps a fortnight ago that he actually lost the points lead as Mika Hakkinen pulled off that remarkable overtaking move on the main straight to boost his chances of claiming a third consecutive crown. All of this is the sort of racing luck that Schumacher not only understands, but can cope with. It goes with the badge.

But last week the veteran Ferrari racer Clay Regazzoni made the suggestion that some might regard as heresy: the wunderkind may no longer be quite the driver that he was. "Michael would not have been passed in such a manner two or three years ago," he suggested. "He has become too cautious." Hakkinen might take exception to the latter suggestion. After Schumacher attempted to edge him off the track during the Finn's first attempt to overtake at Spa, one could be forgiven for believing there is nothing cautious about the former champion's track manner. Quite the reverse, it would seem.

The two had words about the move, but they remain private. In public they fell back on the new mantra of Formula One: we cannot comment until we have seen the video. This is a convenient accommodation for avoiding any comment at all, for usually such things are forgotten by the following race. But at Monza memories remained sharp, and Schumacher was pressed to offer an opinion as to whether he had once again overstepped the line of on-track decorum.

It was suggested that in the days when Regazzoni gave Ferrari the home victory it so craves this afternoon, drivers acted within a code that has long since been eroded, and in a sporting spirit now departed. It was what allowed them to determine whether a move was safe or not. "Does the same spirit exist from the media side to the sport, as it used to 20 years ago?" Schumacher retorted. When it became clear he wasn't going to get off the hook, he referred to an incident in Montreal two years ago. "I think there is this kind of spirit," he said. "And I think we have proven that when I had a problem with Heinz-Harald Frentzen in Canada when I wasn't able to see him coming out of the pit lane. This kind of thing proves that we can do this."

It was an interesting insight into the mind of a man used to winning at all costs, for it was actually Frentzen who had the problem with Schumacher. The Ferrari driver exited the pits, crossed the halfway line on the track which drivers had agreed not to cross in such situations, and promptly obliged the fast-approaching Frentzen to take avoiding action which put him on to the grass at 300kph. Frentzen crashed his Williams heavily as a result.

Many people here believe that there will be more mayhem this afternoon. And that the chances of the whole field making it through a revised first corner without incident are even slimmer than those of Ron Dennis, Sir Frank Williams and Eddie Jordan wresting control of the sport from the elected FIA president, Max Mosley. (This bit of off-track theatre occasioned a measure of amusement in several circles as the trio of team owners attempted to "persuade" Mosley to stand down during a meeting at Heathrow last Wednesday, yet succeeded merely in antagonising him sufficiently to dig his heels in even deeper.)

A serious misfire during his last two runs prevented Hakkinen from challenging the Ferrari duo for pole position, as the red cars made a remarkable performance leap following their drubbing by McLaren in Belgium. Schumacher put down an uprising from Rubens Barrichello, albeit by mere hundredths of a second, while David Coulthard was unable to ride shotgun for his team-mate after persistent problems with traffic ate into his consistency. "The best sector times add up to a good lap," Coulthard said, "but I just couldn't put a good lap together."

Just to add a pinch of spice, Jacques Villeneuve sits in fourth place on the grid in his powerful BAR-Honda. The former champion certainly carries no brief for Schumacher, who needs a win. On past form you wouldn't bet against the French-Canadian snatching the lead off the line. Any more than you would all 22 cars surviving long enough to get to the second corner.

Last year, Hakkinen's race ended with the unforgettable television image of him weeping in frustration after throwing away victory with a spin. A straw poll of the drivers after qualifying yesterday suggested that very few believe that they will all get through the tight first corner without things ending in tears for at least a couple of them. At a time when Schu-macher and Hakkinen are poised to prolong their title fight, taking advantage of any contretemps at the start may be the last ace in Coulthard's hand.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
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

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little