F 1 Newsline: Wednesday
May 9, 2001 | 7:00 A.M. EST
Michael Schumacher, who leads the driver’s standings by just six points over David Coulthard, refuted suggestions that the team is having reliability problems after experiencing suspension difficulties in its last two races.
Rubens Barrichello had to retire in Spain due to a broken right rear suspension, while Schumacher himself suffered a similar fate in Imola.
While Schumacher won the Grand Prix of Spain two weeks ago, it was with an unstable car and only happened after then-race leader Mika Hakkinen blew his clutch on the final lap. Schumacher’s car ran well until he pitted for his final set of tires and said he began feeling a vibration, which made him think the tire was delaminating and that it might explode in a blow-out. Ferrari engineers later concluded that his tires were not properly balanced on the rims, particularly at the rear.
The team reportedly sorted out the suspension problems in testing last week, but the true test status of the tires may not be known until Austria this weekend.
Schumacher denied any serious set-up problems and dismissed them as standard operating procedure.
"You probably read much more into it than there is but that's natural,” he said. “I'm not concerned at all because of what happened in the last stint with the set of tires (in Spain). I'm pretty sure we will find the reason and solution for that. Otherwise the car was perfect. As you saw, it was a close fight and battle with Mika and things were
going in my favor until then. I'm not concerned for the rest of the season."
Schumacher also maintains that the problem in Imola was a different one than the one encountered in Barcelona.
"Seen from the outside, it could give the impression that we have reliability problems but I can tell you this is not the case,” he said. “What happened at Barcelona was different to the problem we had in Imola and it has already been sorted out. I believe it won't happen again."
Once Agian will be Twice as Nice
Juan Pablo Montoya admits his first career Formula One podium finish was hard-coming, but now he says he has to do something even harder: Doing it again.
Right now, though, his best shot maybe at the Austria circuit this weekend, where he raced twice while in F3000.
Montoya is confident his experience of Austria's A1-Ring from his F3000 days will stand him in good stead for Sunday's race.
"I am going to Austria in a confident mood, especially after my second place in Spain,” Montoya said. “It is frustrating when you don't finish races, so I just wanted to make it to the checkered flag and a second on top of that was the icing on the cake. I am looking forward to going to Austria because I have good memories of the A-1 Ring. I have raced there twice in F3000, winning in 1997 and coming in second in 1998.
"On paper it doesn't look a good track for the team, as our results over the last couple of years have not been very good, but in reality we have definitely improved our entire package and we are looking forward to demonstrating that on that circuit.
"We have had a positive test this week in Valencia and I hope we can see
the results of this in Austria."
Meanwhile, Ralf Schumacher, who now spends a lot of his time at his home in Salzburg, Austria and actually considers this weekend’s Austria Grand Prix his home race, more so than his native Germany’s race.
"The track is not very demanding on drivers, nevertheless racing here has always been quite exciting,” Schumacher said. “Unluckily in the last years I didn't have that much luck and I hope this time it's all going to change. I will do my best to get a good result for our team."
Hakkinen Needs a Big Boost in Austria
Mika Hakkinen is hoping to get over his Spanish heartache with a third Austrian Grand Prix win at the A1-Ring this weekend.
The Finn provided the hard luck story of the season in the Spanish Grand Prix where he looked to score his first win of the year, until his McLaren Mercedes broke down with little more than a lap to go.
As in Barcelona, he will go to a circuit that has been kind to him over the years, winning the Austrian Grand Prix here twice, including the 2000 race, which also saw david Coulthard finish second..
After five races, Hakkinen is now 32 points behind the championship leader Michael Schumacher, but his recent history in Austria gives him hope for Sunday.
"Over the past three years, I've had a good record at the A1-Ring with three podium finishes, two as race winner,” Hakkinen said. "I enjoy driving at the circuit, which has similarities to a karting track with its short length and tight corners and it also offers numerous chances to overtake.
"Although I had an unsatisfactory end to the Spanish Grand Prix, I have not lost my belief that I can win the Drivers' World Championship and I am looking forward to getting back to the racing in Austria."
Teammate Coulthard is hoping that his good points scoring run in 2001 will not be broken this weekend, and says he may be able to make some, if not all, of his six point deficit to Schumacher in the championship chase.
"We proved in Barcelona that the car is quick in race conditions as I was able to pass people on a track that is not famed for its overtaking opportunities, whilst working my way up from the back of the grid into a points position,” he said. "Now we have to go out in Austria and try to secure the desired result. I have finished in the top six in every race so far this season, I believe I am the only driver to have done so, and I intend to continue this consistency at the A1-Ring."