Tuesday August 28th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Michael Schumacher can afford to relax at his favourite circuit this weekend. But if all goes well for him at Spa, the Ferrari driver can also make more Formula One history and help clip the wings of his younger brother Ralf.
In theory, he could enjoy a scenic Sunday afternoon drive in the wooded Ardennes after he and his team wrapped up both titles at the last race in Hungary with four Grands Prix to spare. But, even though all the pressure is off after securing his fourth Championship, Schumacher still has work to do.
His win at the Hungaroring equalled the 51 victories of Frenchman Alain Prost and one more would give the 32-year old German the outright record. Spa, the track where he made his debut for Jordan in 1991 and where he has won four times in the past, would be a fitting place for a record victory in his 10th Grand Prix appearance there.
The fast track is famed as a 'drivers' circuit', the longest on the calendar and one steeped in Grand Prix history, with its magnificent high-speed plunge through Eau Rouge.
"This circuit is my favourite one as it's so extreme, but this time it will be even more so," said Schumacher this week, after recovering from a crash in testing at Mugello in Italy. That accident forced Schumacher to pull out of a planned soccer match because of a stiff neck but he was passed fully fit at the weekend.
"I remember last year in Malaysia, when I had won the Championship at the race before in Suzuka," he recalled. "I was just enjoying racing without this pressure we usually have, I could just go flat out, it was a very nice feeling."
Schumacher has been outstanding at Spa in the past, although he was beaten by McLaren's Mika Hakkinen last year after the Finn pulled off one of the sport's greatest overtaking manoeuvres. Hakkinen will again be a threat but this time Schumacher, whose pre-race talk has focussed more on trying to help his teammate Rubens Barrichello than on winning, is more wary of his own brother.
Ralf has won three times this year and his BMW-powered team are expected to be front runners at Spa in their bid to finish the season as the second-placed constructors. Ralf, Barrichello and McLaren's David Coulthard are all fighting for second place in the Championship, with the Scot currently five points clear of the Brazilian.
The Williams driver is two points further behind but Michael has made clear that brotherly love does not enter the equation.
"Our primary objective in the coming races will be to secure second place in the Championship for Rubens," said the older sibling. "Only then can Ferrari's season be said to be more than perfect. Even though I love my brother Ralf very much, we are driving for different teams with different interests."
Barrichello's main problem will be getting himself into a position where he can be helped by his team mate moving over. Spa also marks a fresh start for Jaguar in the week after American Bobby Rahal was replaced as team principal by former World Champion Niki Lauda.
And it sees a farewell for Minardi's Tarso Marques, the man who has occupied the rear of the grid for most of the season and will be replaced by Malaysian Alex Yoong at the next race in Monza.
Published at 11:21:14 GMT