Tuesday August 14th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Ferrari's Michael Schumacher can kill off the Formula One Championship in Hungary this weekend and depart with his fourth title without even appearing on the podium.
But the simplest and most satisfactory way, certainly for the thousands of beer-fuelled German supporters who would otherwise have to puzzle out the maths, would be for him to win on Sunday afternoon.
A seventh victory of the season would have the added bonus of allowing Schumacher to make history with a record-equalling 51st career victory as well as taking the crown with four races to spare. Schumacher leads McLaren's David Coulthard by 37 points with 50 still up for grabs. If the German wins on Sunday, that lead will then become insurmountable wherever the Scot finishes.
Should second place also go to Schumacher's Brazilian teammate Rubens Barrichello, then church bells in Maranello will ring out and Italian pedestrians had better watch out for careering cars full of horn-honking fans.
A one-two finish will secure Ferrari their third Constructors' title in succession in the most one-sided season since Briton Nigel Mansell ran away with the title in a Williams in Hungary in 1992. In that season, the former Ferrari driver secured the title with five races to spare.
Mathematically, Schumacher can finish as far back as fourth on Sunday - and it has been more than a year since he placed that low - and still clinch a title that must be his sooner or later. But for that to happen, Coulthard would have to draw a blank for the third race in a row while Schumacher's younger brother Ralf would also have to oblige by placing his Williams no higher than third.
And Barrichello must not win either. Retirements and accidents aside, Schumacher has not finished out of the top two since May last year and the most Coulthard can realistically hope for is to stave off the inevitable for another few weeks.
Coulthard will be well rested - the pictures of him and girlfriend Simone Abdelnour relaxing on his Mediterranean "love boat" were splashed in Tuesday's Sun newspaper in Britain - but he has never won in Budapest. Teammate Mika Hakkinen has for the last two years and could become the first driver to win three Hungarian Grands Prix in a row if circumstances go his way.
Hakkinen regards Budapest as a home circuit and thousands of Finns will be mingling with the German hordes pouring across the Austrian border and filling the campsites with firecrackers and music. Qualifying is fundamental on a slow and twisty track that is notoriously difficult to overtake on and Schumacher, with eight poles in 12 races this season, is king in that department too.
The German has been on pole four times in Hungary, including last year, and has also twice won the race.
Schumacher will be the main man but French veteran Jean Alesi and German Heinz-Harald Frentzen will provide a sideshow in Budapest as they make their team debuts for Jordan and Prost respectively. Jordan sacked Frentzen before his home Grand Prix at Hockenheim last month and he returns to the Formula One fold at Alesi's old team after the Frenchman went in the other direction last week.
Both will want to prove a point, with 37-year old Alesi eager to show that age has not dimmed his talent. The driver merry-go-round could also get another shove this weekend, with Jordan's highly-rated Italian driver Jarno Trulli and Benetton's 2002 line-up the main uncertainties.
Published at 11:52:36 GMT