Schumachers support sacked Frentzen

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The Independent Online

The absent German received public and pointed support from his illustrious countrymen as they assembled here for their home Grand Prix on Sunday.

Michael and Ralf Schumacher expressed their sympathy for Heinz-Harald Frentzen, sacked on Wednesday by Jordan-Honda. The elder brother suggested the team should stand by their drivers during difficult times.

But then both Schumachers have had experience of contentious issues with Eddie Jordan, the team principal. Michael had to pay compensation following his defection to Benetton after only one race in 1991, while Ralf took legal action against the team for late payment of his salary in 1998.

Michael, whose leadership of the world championship and quest to equal Alain Prost's record of 51 Formula One wins was almost overlooked amid the fallout of the Frentzen affair, said: "I feel sorry for Heinz-Harald. Ralf had similar problems with that team. It's not surprising this does happen. It is a shame because he had a good time in '99, so he can't be too bad a driver, and in times of difficulty you have to stick to drivers. But he might yet have a better opportunity now.''

Ralf, who left Jordan for Williams at the end of 1998, confirmed: "I had problems with this team, and when people don't want to work together maybe going to a different team is better. Eddie is a nice guy but not when you work for him. To be fair to Eddie he has big pressures from his sponsors to deliver.''

These reasons remain, for public consumption, the "differences'' that arose following the British Grand Prix. Clearly there was dissatisfaction on both sides, which led to an exchange of views and then the parting of the ways. The matter is now in the hands of lawyers. The German sponsors involved with Jordan and Frentzen are said to be dismayed that their man will not be competing in Sunday's race, although they accept driver selection is the province of the team management. Frentzen's seat is to be taken by Jordan's test driver, the Brazilian Ricardo Zonta.

Zonta will sense the prospect of a long-term contract but others will doubtless covet the drive. Jenson Button, currently at Benetton, has already been linked with a switch to Jordan, possibly along with his team-mate, Giancarlo Fisichella. But the team are seeking fresh momentum and Jordan's major sponsor would welcome a British driver. It is thought Jarno Trulli could be exchanged for Fisichella. Frentzen, meanwhile, is looking for a new job as well as compensation, estimated at £5m from Jordan. He was rumoured to be joining Toyota, who took the opportunity to nip that one in the bud yesterday.

Ove Andersson, team principal of Toyota who join Formula One next year, reiterated the team's intention to put their test driver, Scotland's Allan McNish, into their second car. Finland's Mika Salo is already confirmed for next year.

As for Sunday's race, it should be ideal for Williams-BMW. The circuit demands power and the weather should be hot, conditions that suit this Anglo-German package. The other Anglo-German concern, McLaren-Mercedes, fresh from their emphatic victory at Silverstone, require more of the same if they are to challenge Ferrari's hold on the two championships. Michael Schumacher heads the standings and can be virtually certain of securing a fourth title with places. That, however, is not his way of doing business. A win here would give him the chance of sealing the championship in Hungary next month.

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