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Monday, July 27, 1998 Published at 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK

The difference a race makes

Hakkinen leads Schumacher into an early corner

The BBC Motor Racing Correspondent Jonathan Legard reviews the action in Austria and looks ahead to this weekend's race in Germany.

What a difference a race makes. The doom and gloom enveloping the McLaren team following Silverstone couldn't have been more emphatically lifted.

Whether they care to admit it or not, Ferrari were routed by Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard.

Theirs was a brilliant double act, which rightfully earned them glowing tributes from team principal, Ron Dennis, and from Mercedes head of motorsport, Norbert Haug.

"They both drove the best races of their careers," said Dennis.

"Our drivers were super," was Haug's verdict.

[ image: Michael Schumacher needed a new nose after driver error]
Michael Schumacher needed a new nose after driver error
As much as the vital points they gained towards the constructors' title and the drivers' championship - Hakkinen now leads Schumacher by eight points - they've all but inked their names on new contracts for 1999.

Ron Dennis said he hoped to make an announcement within a month. Haug made clear he wanted to retain both, semmingly unworried in Coulthard's case, by the Scot's recent run of failures.

The manner of his buccaneering charge from the back of the field to the front will linger long in the memory.

It also means that McLaren approach Hockenheim this weekend in the best possible way - winners, with enough Mercedes muscle to make those four long straights little more than trolley dashes.

Ferrari promise a run out for their new longer wheel-base car (basically better stability round corners) and as soon as Schumacher gets a whiff of the red-blooded passion around the circuit's stadium complex, you can bet it will be worth an extra tenth or more. But McLaren will still take some beating.

It's a measure of Hakkinen's achievement in Austria that Schumacher fell off into the gravel in his efforts to chase the McLaren into a mistake.

It's also worth noting Ferrari team tactics. How many more brake problems will Irvine suddenly encounter with Schumacher on his tail and on a mission?

[ image: Jonathan Legard - our man at the track]
Jonathan Legard - our man at the track
Those who suspect Ferrari bias from on high will be watching, waiting for an excuse to invoke those post-Melbourne guidelines on team orders.

Hockenheim will also act as a pick-me-up for Giancarlo Fisichella who led last year's race until forced off by a high speed puncture.

His debut pole in Austria was welcome variety to the staple diet of McLaren domination. (The Benetton revival under David Richards is coming on nicely.)

The less said about Fisichella's race performance the better. The same applies to Jean Alesi. One race win from 145 starts is a massive statement of underachievement.

That charge could equally apply to the Jordan team in 1998. But at least Ralf Schumacher is now scoring. And this weekend should see confirmation that he's staying with the team despite talks with Sauber.

Damon Hill's form remains an enigma, but he's all set to sign on for another year.

Elsewhere, Heinz Harald Frentzen seems in no-man's-land - Prost, Sauber or America? Johnny Herbert for Stewart is another rumour gathering pace.

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