Timothy Collings' European GP Preview
Thursday May 18th, 2000
By Timothy Collings
Michael Schumacher will be particularly wary of younger brother Ralf at this weekend's European Grand Prix.
The world championship leader, racing at the nearest circuit to the Schumachers' family home, needs a solid result after going off the boil in his last two races following three successive wins.
Although he is 14 points clear of McLaren's world champion Mika Hakkinen, the last Spanish Grand Prix was the sort of race neither Schumacher nor his Italian team will want to repeat.
Schumacher accidentally knocked over and injured chief mechanic Nigel Stepney at a pit-stop and then duelled on the track with Ralf, whose Williams came in fourth -- one place ahead of Michael.
Their wheel-to-wheel battle in Barcelona left them both aggrieved and many suspect it will heighten the tension this weekend in a race expected to attract a huge crowd to the 4.556 km circuit in the Eifel mountains.
Twice world champion Michael has won just once before at the Nuerburgring -- for Benetton in an inspired drive in the wet in 1995 -- and this time faces a tougher challenge than ever before from his sibling.
Ralf enjoyed success at the Nuerburgring in Formula Three and led a Formula One race for the first time there last year. He also collided with his brother and wrecked his title challenge two years ago.
"That is one I want to forget, but in general I like the Nuerburgring and always look forward to it," said Ralf.
"It is one of my favourite tracks, it is near my family home at Kerpen and of course I know the circuit and the area quite well," he added.
"When I started my racing career, I spent a lot of time here driving around in road cars on the old 'Nordschleife' and I had a great time.
"But I like the new 'Ring a lot too and want to do well. Last year, I led an F1 race for the first time before a puncture forced me to pit and that cost me the lead and I ended up fourth. This year, I want to do better than that."
Hakkinen won in Spain, his first victory of the year ahead of second-placed team mate David Coulthard, who withstood the pain from three cracked ribs resulting from his plane crash in France five days previously.
The Finn has won only once previously at the 'Ring, in 1998 when he gave engine suppliers Mercedes a home win to savour.
Last year, heavy rain caused confusion and a repeat could again upset all the teams' best-laid plans.
Eddie Irvine, now with Jaguar, suffered last year when his Ferrari was delayed in the pits by mechanics having only three new tyres ready to put on it.
"Last year's race was like an attempt to win a comedy award when my old team seemed to think I was driving a Morgan three-wheeler and lost one of my wheels at a pit stop," Irvine recalled.
"But, on a positive note, it was a great race for the Stewart team (now Jaguar) with Johnny (Herbert) winning and Rubens (Barrichello) coming third.
"But nothing stands still in Formula One and on current form it is unlikely we can repeat that result."
Sunday's race will be Herbert's 150th in Formula One and after his rain-hit win last season, he is keen to return.
"I can't see it happening again," he said. "But I just hope we can be a bit more competitive than we have been recently."