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.

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
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

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin