Germany's Heinz-Harald Frentzen goes home this weekend as the outsider
who can upset favourites Mika Hakkinen and Eddie Irvine in the run-in for
the Formula One world championship. The 32-year-old from Moenchengladbach,
driving for the Jordan team, hopes to follow up his win at
Monza two weeks ago with another in the European Grand Prix at the Nuerburgring to press his own
unexpected late title challenge. With three races to go, including this weekend's race, Frentzen is just 10 points behind McLaren's Finnish world champion Hakkinen and Ferrari's Irvine. It is a situation few in the Formula One paddock expected to see at the start of the season. But Frentzen, the son of a German father and a Spanish mother, is honest enough to assess his title chances as no more than slim -- and entirely dependent on Ferrari and McLaren making mistakes. "I think both Ferrari and McLaren should be strong at this track,'' he said. "But we want to be right behind them. If they make a mistake, we will be ready to take up the challenge and to pass them. I am sure the atmosphere will be great with lots of very dedicated fans at the track.'' The "Frentzen factor'' is not the only outside threat to the duel between Hakkinen and Briton Irvine which was expected to be the sole focal point of the closing races of the year. Another German, Ralf Schumacher, showed at Monza that he too has the potential to cause an upset on a circuit he regards as one of his favourites. After finishing on the podium in second place at the Italian race, he is determined to maintain theWilliams team's late season revival. "The Nurburgring is one of my favourite tracks because I have enjoyed a lot of successful races
there and it is also very close to my family home at Kerpen so I always enjoy it,'' the younger of the
two Schumacher brothers said. While both Germans hope to mount a strong challenge in the absence of double world champion Michael Schumacher of Ferrari, recovering from a broken leg, the weekend is likely to see a close contest between Irvine and Hakkinen. Irvine worked hard in testing with Ferrari last week at their Fiorano test track, sleeping at the track and spending all his spare time in the team's mobile gym. He said afterwards that his improved car, with aerodnyamic modifications following his disappointing run to sixth at Monza, was ``the best I have driven this year.'' Irvine was highly optimistic for the Nurburgring race on a tight, slow and high-downforce track which is very different from the fast circuits at Spa and Monza.
Last year, Ferrari dominated qualifying and took over the front row of the grid, but Michael
Schumacher was out-raced from pole by Hakkinen who scored a crucial victory in his maiden title
campaign. An equally close contest is in prospect this time with Hakkinen's McLaren team-mate Briton David Coulthard hoping he, too, can snatch a victory to keep his hopes alive. Coulthard is currently fourth, 12 points behind, and needs another win to prevent the team from ordering him to race in defence of Hakkinen's title rather than for himself. "I have had no discussions with anyone from the team about helping Mika, but I consider myself to be in the battle for the title,'' said the cot.
"But I know it is going to be hard because I am fighting with my own team-mate, who has 12 points
more than me.''