Backyard F1

 by Steve Dean
February 23, 2001

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"European people are very weak mentally. They always start these kinds of mind games in order to show who is in charge or to make a point." Juan Montoya, 10-24-00

"Ralf is a good guy and I don't have any problems with him." Juan Montoya, 1-27-01

I love the way the Williams situation is shaping up. The law of averages says it won't be long before Williams edges back into their familiar wrung at the top of the ladder. Maybe not this year, but sooner, rather than later, Williams will rediscover their old, winning ways. Count on it. But wait...it gets better. 

Now Williams has a volatile driver pairing in Ralf Schumacher, and newcomer, Juan Montoya. Schumacher tried, early on, to shake the unshakable, 25-year-old Colombian. Schumacher badly underestimated. If aplomb were gold, Montoya would be Ft. Knox. Montoya doesn't always appear to be comfortable dealing with the media, and has been stamped arrogant for it. When Montoya was racing in the States, I always felt he just didn't give a damn about interviews and publicity, or for that matter, what anybody, outside his team, thought of him. He seemed to say, "Think what you want, but just remember who won the race." Needless to say, a lot of people remembered Montoya.

When Tony George exiled the CART regulars for the 1996 Indy 500, and created his Indy Racing League (IRL) series, I swore I would never watch another Indy 500. I felt, and still feel, what George did was the equivalent of replacing the entire F1 field and replacing them with F3000 teams, and calling it Formula One. Indy was still Indy, but who cares, when the field consisted of, with few exceptions, CART backmarkers and unknown triflers. 

Last year, though, Chip Ganassi brought his dominant CART team with IRL spec cars for his two drivers, Montoya and Jimmy Vassar. Two-time Indy 500 champ, Al Unser Jr. tried to rattle Montoya's cage prior to the race, saying Montoya's driving was dangerous, and that he didn't respect Indy. What did Montoya do? Nothing, but qualify on the front row, and dominate the race. Unser limped home early, and finished 29th. Despite what some might say, Montoya's victory was huge for CART, and for the fans that long for a REAL Indy 500. Despite that, all I could think about was Montoya's unruffled drive. 

Perhaps those who see Montoya as a future World Champion could be prove to be wrong. Maybe he will wilt, as Andretti and Zanardi did, but remember this: his aloofness and perceived arrogance are nothing more than by-products of his desire to win. When he is on, which is quite often, he simply makes everyone else look like boys. Sometime in the near future, Schumacher had better worry, and I'm speaking of Michael, not Ralf. Yes, this should be interesting.

"There was talk of boardroom battles but there was never anything in it. All we were doing was focusing on doing a good job." Craig Pollock, on his turmoil with Adrian Reynard at BAR

"..it has been a bit of a mess from the word go. It's not like it's big news here. Craig's fighting Adrian - big deal."  Malcolm Oastler, Chief Designer for BAR

"Michael is tougher to race against than Mika because you don't know what he's going to do next. You don't know if he's seen you or the track is wide enough for him. Mika behaves like a normal human being.'' Jacques Villenueve, at the BAR launch

 Let's get this straight: Craig needs Jacques, but doesn't want Adrian; Adrian needs Jacques, but doesn't want Craig; Jacques makes it known he won't play racecars with Michael and Mika without Craig. Oastler has it right: what a mess! It doesn't seem that long ago when Villenueve was the one guy that could shake the foundation that Michael Schumacher stood on. Now look where he stands. A World Champion Grand Prix driver, idling at ground zero of the imploding bombship, BAR. What a freakin' waste. 

"We are testing all the time for Formula One and there is more pressure. There is pressure from the Italian press and the Brazilian press now". Rubens Barrichello

I've always liked Rubens. Not only is he a nice guy, he is also a fast Grand Prix driver. Not quite as fast as many of us originally thought, though. Fair or not, all rising Brazilian drivers are always going to be compared to guys named Fittipaldi, Piquet, and most of all, Senna. Rubens also has the unflattering, misfortune to have Michael Schumacher as a teammate. Still, it's hard not to pull for Rubens. His emotional reaction to his maiden win in Germany was heart-felt, compared to Schumacher's, how shall I say, uncharacteristic, reaction at Monza six weeks later.

Maybe that's why his comments about pressure get under my skin. Maybe it's unfair to elevate star athletes and celebrities to heights unknown to the common man. Maybe, but that is the very definition of a star. In fact, most demand at least that, and much, much more. Either way, nothing chaps my ass more than turning on the tube or opening up the paper and seeing some "star" moaning about his pressures. Bitch, bitch, bitch. What is pressure? Is it paying the bills with a multi-million dollar bank balance, or doing the same with a hundred dollar balance? Is it risking life and limb for worldwide fame and fortune, or doing the same just to feed and house the kids and the wife?

That's the problem with heroes. The more we adore them, the more detached they become. They demand, rather than earn, respect. Most celebrities act as if they have no clue how lucky they really are. It seems as though a F1 driver's idea of communicating with the masses is shaking a tail feather on the podium. And still, our love is unfettered.

Hey Rubens, tell us what it's like to race a Formula One car all over the globe. Tell us how cool it is to have your own jet, whisking you away. Tell us what the Ferrari V-10 feels like at Eau Rouge, flat-out. Tell us what a relief it is to know that you could quit today and never have to work another day in your life. Let us live through you. Give us an escape. That is what a hero is to me. For me, a hero is one performs extraordinary feats on a regular basis. Feats that leave the rest of us mere mortals with our mouths wide open. Pressure? We don't need a F1 driver to tell us about that. We already KNOW about that.

"......what they (the FOCA teams) came up with was 'water-cooled brakes.' The car, equipped with a huge water tank, would go to the grid with the thing full, spray its contents away in the early laps, run the bulk of the race 30kgs under the limit, then have the tank refilled afterwards so as to be over 580 for the check.................if they had been slightly less holier-than-thou about it, the FOCA teams might have had more sympathy in the press. As it was, they would insult your intelligence, asserting the merits of water as a means of cooling the brakes. Why, then, did they not take enough for the whole race? Silence." 
Nigel Roebuck, commenting on the 1982 FIA-FOCA riff, and the subsequent FOCA boycott of the San Marino GP,

Nigel Roebuck's "Ask Nigel" arrives every Wednesday on Autosport's web page with Roebuck answering questions from readers. It is one of the best, if not, THE best Formula One column on The Internet. Roebuck is one of my favorite F1 writers. He has a marvelous, flowing style, and a knack for illustrating F1, both past and present, to the aficionado and novice alike, without compromising to either. For those of us who haven't followed F1 our entire lives, "Ask Nigel" is worth its weight in Ecclestone gold.

"I hadn't realized how far ahead Ferrari were until I came here (Jaguar)..........The way to improve is to take the best from Ferrari and McLaren, but we're so far from those guys there's no point even talking about it." Eddie Irvine

Thankfully, Eddie will talk about it. Say what you will of Irvine's driving, but his wanton ability to speak before he thinks adds a welcome dash of spice to an otherwise, stoic dish. No matter that he's full of gas half the time. Save Villenueve, who else will say as he feels when the microphones go hot? My favorite Irvine quote, and winner of the Brass Balls award, was at Indianapolis last year. Said Eddie, "NASCAR is nothing but a bunch of farmers running around in circles". Ouch!

"If the aerodynamic changes [designers] put forward are seriously wrong, we'll look at [new] measures, but it will be done calmly and rationally."  Max Mosley, FIA President, 2-2-01

If Mosley's history is any barometer, new measures will be ANYTHING but, calm and rational. One brief glance back to 1994, after Ayrton Senna's death, demonstrates very clearly Mosley's and The FIA's "calm and rational" thinking. "Calm and rational" gave us the temporary tire chicane, and created the gamely, narrow-track car, and the equally offensive grooved tires. It uses chicanes as a safety measure, slowing the cars; which of course, only creates unforgiving, and unnecessary bottlenecks and accidents, defeating the entire purpose. Christ, if this is "calm and rational", hit the bricks when "frantic and irrational" comes down the pipe.

"Simply put, the Internet allows us to provide you with event coverage, news, features and commentary in a timely manner that wasn't available with the printed product." 
Jon Gunn, Editor, On-Track Online, explaining why the former On Track magazine, switched from print to cyberspace.

Life goes by so fast, sometimes, that it's hard to believe how far we've actually traveled. My racing life grew up on OT magazine. Nowhere else could I hear about Formula One the way OT brought it. Certainly not from ESPN. For a F1 fan in the middle of America, OT was about the only way I could keep my F1 senses honed, even if the issues were dated by the time I got them (first-class postage was more than I could subsidize). OT introduced me to Eoin Young, Forrest Bond, Jeremy Shaw, Jonathan Ingram, and how can I forget "Under The Big Top", with Effe Juan? Welcome to the new millennium. Here's to the new boss, same as the old boss. 

"..with electronics you can bring them (F1 cars) to the limit, which I prefer..........As the situation stands at the moment, I am in favor of traction control."  Michael Schumacher

Many have accused, many in jest, now Schuey lays the entire truth to rest. He's all for traction control. Big surprise, huh? After all, its worked wonders in his past. 

"..the main job of the ECU (Electronic Control Unit) is to manage the ignition of fuel into the engine and the spark timing of the ignition....the ECU can also shut down engine cylinders when wheelspin occurs......the ECU measures the amount of clutch movement by the driver, engaging or disengaging the clutch as required......getting a good start in 2001 will be about dumping the clutch and letting the electronics take over......On the downshift, the throttle is blipped (the equivalent of heeling and toeing)..." Tom Clarkson

"Quite often during a practice session all the fast drivers will be going around at eight-tenths, neatly and tidily, placing the front wheels within an inch of the edge of the road each time, and after a while it is easy to take a blase view of this and almost lose interest in the proceedings. Then suddenly you will notice that the approaching car is in a bit more of a slide then normal leaving the last corner and instead of coming to within the usual inch of the edge of the road, the inside front wheel now runs on to the grass verge, throwing up a little cloud of dust, and as the car passes you see the driver has a sharper look of concentration on his face and is working away at the steering wheel a little more then previously.....When such a situation arises any feeling of disinterestedness leaves me instantly, for now will be revealed the true prowess of the driver concerned. The art of high-speed driving is now being demonstrated to its fullest, and if the driver happens to be one of the top names in Grand Prix racing then one's cup of pleasure as a spectator is full to overflowing."
Denis Jenkinson

I've been accused of being too cynical in Formula One matters. Sometimes, it's hard to argue, but never confuse cynicism with passion. I never criticize Formula One just for the sake of it; rather, hoping for a positive change. Maybe my wish list is too long. My love for Formula One only sees what is possible, not what is "feasible". When I compare these two quotes, I find myself hankering for the good old days of F1. Even if I wasn't around then. Jenkinson paints a far more appealing time, where men like Fangio, Moss, and Ascari drove the cars, instead of the opposite. Romance and racing divorced long before I began following F1. 

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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