Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Friday, March 10, 2000

On Starting Grid for New Season

Hakkinen Chases Fangio Record as Schumacher Pursues Hakkinen

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - The 2000 Formula One championship starts Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Here is a look at the 11 teams, listed in the order of their final positions in the standings last year.


Drivers: Michael Schumacher, Rubens Barrichello.

Although they won the constructors' title last year for the first time since 1983, it is the drivers' title that the team and the Italian fans yearn for. Ferrari last won it in 1979, with Jody Scheckter. It has had a chance to win entering the final Grand Prix in each of the last three seasons and has missed each time. But in winter testing the new car has set lap times up to two seconds faster than last year's car.

Schumacher has rarely been so optimistic before a season. ''I don't know where McLaren is right now,'' he said, since Ferrari avoided testing with other teams, ''but I'm confident that the gap between us at the first race will not exist any more.'' His biggest threat may come from Barrichello, his new teammate, who has been given his big chance to break through.


Mika Hakkinen, David Coulthard.

Hakkinen is trying for a third successive driver's title, a feat that only Juan Manuel Fangio has succeeded in doing. But Hakkinen may have to watch out for his teammate. While the Finn took a vacation, Coulthard clocked up mileage in winter testing. He has said he is more focused than ever. Having failed to preserve its constructors' title last year, the team's motivation should also be strong.


Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Jarno Trulli.

Eddie Jordan's team has risen steadily since entering Formula One in 1991. It has made a habit of discovering excellent drivers, Schumacher among them. Last year Jordan brought out the best in Frentzen, who won two races. This year Trulli replaces the aged and unmotivated Damon Hill.

The struggle between the drivers should be intense. A crucial factor will be the success of the cohabitation of Mugen-Honda and its very big cousin the Honda Motor Co., which re-enters the sport with the British American Racing team.


Eddie Irvine, Johnny Herbert.

Last year as Stewart Grand Prix, the team belonged to Jackie Stewart and his son, Paul. It has been bought by the Ford Motor Co., which changed its name to Jaguar. Jackie Stewart stepped down as head of the team but remains a mascot, while Paul keeps the job of team director. The team finally won a race last year, and that victory in turn revivified Herbert's career. So Irvine, who escapes from the shadow of Schumacher at Ferrari, should be challenged by his fellow Briton.


Ralf Schumacher, Jenson Button.

Williams, which has moved steadily downward since 1997 when it won both titles, must now adapt to a new engine manufacturer. Button, who at 20 is the youngest ever British driver in Formula One, and fifth youngest overall, has only two years' experience in racing cars, and his hiring has been criticized by other drivers on safety grounds.


Giancarlo Fisichella, Alex Wurz.

Benetton has struggled to recapture its glory years in 1994 and 1995 when it won two drivers' titles with Michael Schumacher and one constructors' title. Rumors that it is up for sale and that Renault might return to Formula One as a partner, make its commitment for 2000 uncertain, although testing times have been good.


Jean Alesi, Nick Heidfeld.

Peugeot's commitment is also in doubt, and the Prost car was slow and unreliable during winter testing. Alesi, the most experienced driver on the grid, had his worst year in the sport with Sauber last season. He will add color to the team, but could be overshadowed by Heidfeld, a very quick rookie.


Pedro Diniz, Mika Salo.

The Swiss team has two solid drivers, the excellent Ferrari engine (re-named Petronas), and its lap times in winter testing were good. But the team suffers from a lack of vitality, and its prospects remain poor.


Jos Verstappen, Pedro de la Rosa.

Verstappen missed the 1999 season but is both sufficiently young (he turned 28 on 4 March) and sufficiently experienced enough to provide Arrows with what it needs should the car prove as fast in races as it was during testing. It set the fastest time of all the cars at Barcelona this winter.


Marc Gene, Gaston Mazzacane.

The tiny Minardi team continues its quixotic adventure in Formula One. In its 15 seasons it has never won a race. Gene, the Spanish driver who scored the team's only point last year, is joined by Mazzacane, an Argentine of unproven ability who was chosen by Telefonica, the team's principal sponsor, which has business interests in South America.

British American Racing-Honda

Jacques Villeneuve, Ricardo Zonta.

BAR started last season talking about winning the first race, and ended by becoming the only team not to mark a point all season. But this winter it partnered up with Honda, which returns to Formula One after nearly a decade. The car is already faster and more reliable.

Villeneuve argues that the first race will set the tone for his season. ''If I have gone well in Australia, the rest of the season has gone well,'' said the 1997 world champion. ''I am really hoping for a good result in Melbourne. I think there is every chance that we will have a good season and maybe surprise a few people.''

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