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AUGUST 19, 2001

Clinging to the wreckage

AS the victorious Ferrari team members hugged each other, sprayed champagne and danced jigs around the base of Michael Schumacher's victory podium, the rest of the formula one fraternity was left licking its wounds and, briefly at least, allowing itself a touch of self pity.

Confronting the realities of the formula one business can sometimes be an uncomfortable process. Not since Nigel Mansell clinched his world championship crown here at the Hungaroring nine years ago, with a second place finish behind Ayrton Senna's McLaren, has the title contest been settled so early in the season.

For television viewers around the world, reared over the past decade on a seemingly endless succession of championship cliffhangers running to the final race over the year, it almost seems unreal. What is to be done up until the start of next season? What is the point of it all?

Well, to start with there are four more grands prix on the calendar, each offering ten points for a win and the opportunity for some hitherto unsung hero to make his name. It also effectively marks the start of next season with every team focusing its mind on where it had gone wrong in 2002.

For Ron Dennis, the McLaren chairman, it was also a moment to reflect on a painfully disappointing season which has so far yielded just three wins out of 13 races, two for Coulthard and one for the hapless Mika Hakkinen.

"Generally it has been a season that has got plenty of errors in it," he said. "Not as many as most of the other teams, but more than Ferrari, and that's what motor racing is all about.

"We're not going to winge and moan, we'll concentrate on trying to win as many of the remaining races as possible. We will be trying to do a much better job in 2002."

Dennis refused to lay any of the blame for the poor season on his drivers. "I think the drivers have done a pretty good job in both cases," he said. "It's all too easy to question the performance of a driver at individual races, but I think, to be honest, both David and Mika have reason to question our performance.


"We haven't really been as good as we have been and we certainly haven't been as good as we're going to be, that's the most important thing. We have never been quitters and we're not going to start now. We'll be working flat out to win all the remaining races and intend to hit the ground running at the start of 2002."

McLaren will also have their work cut out beating rivals BMW Williams to second place in the Constructors' Championship, Ralf Schumacher having won three races for the other leading British team so far this season.

Over the remaining four races, all held on high speed circuits, Williams can be expected to pose a consistently strong threat and the clever money is also on former Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, the younger Schumacher's team-mate, posting his first grand prix victory.

There is also time to salvage some reputations. At the end of yesterday's race Eddie Irvine's credibility had suffered a severe dent within the Jaguar ranks after he inexplicable threw his car off the road into the gravel trap at the first corner of the race.

Characteristically, Irvine admitted he was totally to blame. "That's probably one of the shortest races ever for me," he shrugged. "It was my fault completely. I was running down the dusty side of the track and simply went into turn one too fast. I haven't been able to get the best out of the car all weekend."

Translating that candor into a championship challenge promises to be a long haul for both Jaguar and its penitent driver.