Team ethic brings McLaren's momentum

Click to follow
The Independent Online

They were not exactly gloating, but the satisfaction was as evident as it was justified almost everywhere in the McLaren-Mercedes camp. Mika Hakkinen had gone to the top of the championship for the first time this season and Ferrari had been comprehensively defeated on a circuit where they had expected to be in command.

They were not exactly gloating, but the satisfaction was as evident as it was justified almost everywhere in the McLaren-Mercedes camp. Mika Hakkinen had gone to the top of the championship for the first time this season and Ferrari had been comprehensively defeated on a circuit where they had expected to be in command.

The one slightly subdued figure was that of David Coulthard, who had been unable to pass Michael Schumacher's Ferrari, despite his performance advantage, and complete a McLaren one-two in the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Scotsman now trails his teammate by six points and the German by four with five races left. However, Ron Dennis, the McLaren owner, was at pains to stress the importance of the team ethic of equality among the drivers which served to dismiss the claim - levelled by Ferrari - that McLaren favour Hakkinen over Coulthard.

"We anticipate all sorts of verbal garbage coming out of our competitors," Dennis said. "The reality is we are very committed to both our guys and are scrupulously fair. We're functioning as a team first but not to the detriment of either driver. Not to favour one or other driver does not have a denigrating effect on the team effort. It means our drivers are not selfish. They take the interest of the team first and selfish interest second. We have an environment where everyone is equal."

Schumacher is the No 1 at Ferrari, a position and privilege he again confirmed by leaving his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, a distant fourth on Sunday. Ferrari's technical director, Ross Brawn, argues that at least they are open about their policy, while McLaren are hypocritical and do not give equal opportunity to Coulthard.

Dennis takes his case further, stressing that neither of his drivers would be suitably equipped for the job without the best endeavours of the entire workforce. "No matter how great the driver is he would look pretty silly sitting on the grid in his underpants," Dennis said to make his point.

"Our drivers and our team are more than capable of winning. A little of the pressure is eliminated by winning here. We have a very narrow points advantage in both championships and I'm pretty pleased with the reliability of the car and the fact that we have got a bit more out of the chassis. But we're not going to throw it away by being complacent."

The force is apparently now with McLaren and, having won on this twisty, slower track, Dennis is confident they are capable of pressing home their advantage on the faster circuits to come.

"Spa, Monza and Suzuka are circuits that should complement our car," Dennis added. "Not that we are concerned about the other two [Indianapolis and Malaysia]."

Schumacher, who had pole position here, was visibly stunned by the pace of the McLaren. He admits he is concerned and that his team have to improve their car if he is to retain any hope of becoming their first champion since 1979. He has produced some outstanding drives at Spa and will need to excel again on Sunday week. A familiar intervention by the elements would help his cause.

Dennis, for one, will not underestimate Schumacher's prowess. He said: "I spend little time worrying about what other people say but if Michael says he is worried he shouldn't be. There are five races left and anything can happen.

"It's a tall order for both McLarens and both Ferraris to finish all five races. You've got to focus to make sure it's not your car that doesn't finish. Here our car was very good and it paid dividends but now it's back to work."

Coulthard, after taking McLaren's challenge to Schumacher earlier in the season, must now fear Hakkinen has an important edge. The Scotsman needs to respond in Belgium, where he won last year by muscling his partner out of his path.

"I wasn't excited about the championship before the race here and I'm certainly not now," he said. "I always said it was going to be close and so it's proving to be. Everybody's taking points off each other.

"I'm certainly not out of it. I hope to be on Mika's pace and I'm usually much closer to him at Spa, as I was last year. There's no reason why I shouldn't be this year. I don't see it as a case of our leaving Ferrari behind now. They'll be there."

Comments