Backyard F1 - III

 by Steve Dean
March 20, 2001

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"But then Juan hit Eddie and that was that. Having said that we got to the end of the race, proved we have the reliability and we performed well at certain times." 
Bobby Rahal, Jaguar Team Boss, on the big green cat's performance in Melbourne

Analysis: Reliability is certainly noble for the lower half of the grid, but on the top half, reliability is just another piece of the puzzle. And that is where Jaguar, and Ford, is ultimately aiming. Certainly, it is early for Jaguar, but the same can't be said for Ford-Cosworth. It is hard to comprehend that a company that has and spends the resources that it does, continues to stick in the middle of the pack. In F1 terms, Ford-Cosworth has done little since the days of the DFV-V8. Remember the Ford V-12? Neither do we. We've been hearing, these past few years, how light and powerful the Ford-Cosworth V-10 is, but that hasn't translated into race victories.

How does Rahal fit into the equation? That may all depend on Niki Lauda. Lauda is above Rahal, and is a no-nonsense type of fellow. Rahal is respected, but what does that mean? Ken Tyrrell is respected, but where is he? Being a successful American racer and team-owner counts for beans in F1. The aim seems to be, aim low and hope for mediocrity. For now. The questions remains, though, does Ford have what it takes to reach the top in the ultimate, modern era? With their recent history, the odds are long.

"I was able to keep cool and keep pushing."
Nick Heidfeld, Sauber driver

".....gradually the balance came back and I could keep pushing hard to the end. It's been a good day, and a good start to my F1 career." 
Kimi Raikkonen, Sauber driver

Analysis: Few drivers were more impressive than the two Sauber drivers. Heidfeld looked like he came as advertised the previous year. Agressive, refined, he held off the challenge of the far more experienced Heintz-Harald Frentzen, to ultimately claim fourth place. This German looks a hell of a lot better with a Ferrari engine behind him than a Peugeot. A man to keep a close eye on.

As for his young teammate, Kimi Rakkonen's performance shut up his doubters, for a race, anyway. Despite the fact that he had only been in a total of 23 motor races, the young Finn shined in the Australian sun. Listen to the people propping up Juan Montoya, but Rakkionen could be a guy that might give the Montoya's of the world pause.


"For me, it is beyond doubt that somehow Ferrari (i.e. Sauber) managed to develop an engine software which reduces the power by a certain margin to the extent that the driven wheels don't spin."
Heinz-Harald Frentzen

"We disagree [with the allegations], and we are better placed than Heinz-Harald Frentzen to know what the various teams are doing.....It is, however, a fact that some teams are able to tune their engines so that wheelspin." 
Max Mosley

Analysis: Could Traction Control explain why the Saubers, and its young drivers, were so dynamite, as H-HF has alleged? Frentzen is one of the more experienced drivers in F1. Frentzen claimed the Sauber of Nick Heidfeld had extraordinary acceleration coming out of slow corners combined with a misfiring engine. Frentzen had nothing to challenge Heidfeld in Melbourne.

Maybe Malayasia will spell out whether or not the Saubers are relying on the drivers, or electronics. One thing is certain: it won't be the FIA or Max Mosley who gets to the bottom of it. Read the above quote from Mosley again. Does it jump off the page for you, like it did me?

Lets see if we have this straight. Mosley claims to be in a better position than a driver, to determine whether or not a team is using TCS. Maybe I'm wrong, but wasn't it drivers, in years past, that claimed rival teams were cheating with TCS? Now Max and his crew are telling anybody that will listen, that THEY would be able to tell if rules were being broken.

As a fan, I hate being talked down to. I hate when those in the know assume we are stupid. Wasn't it Mosley who conceded to the teams, and TCS, on the grounds that it was impossible to police? Instead of holding true to the rules, it was judged that the cheaters had won, so everyone should be allowed to cheat. 

I still am convinced that the FIA could easily outlaw TCS if it had the balls, but as we saw in 1999, rules, and dealing with rule-breakers are two entirely different entities. I think the FIA could simply say this: maybe you think you can get away with it, but if we catch you, your season is done. Period. No appeals, no pleas. See you next year.

Maybe I'm totally naive, but I think it isn't the job of the organized body to worry if the sponsors have the rug pulled out from under them if their teams get caught skirting the rules. They know damn good and well what the rules say. Let THEM explain to the sponsors, why their cars aren't running. That's not the FIA's job, regardless of what Mosley or Bernie Ecclestone thinks.

Why should we feel sorry for Ferrari, if their barge boards are in violation of the rules? Is it the rule's fault that Ferrari picks the next to last race, in a championship fight, to get caught? I've always thought, something such as that is called choking, not a "technical violation". 

What's the use of watching drivers like Villeneuve, Schumacher, Alesi, Hakkinen, and Montoya if they are not allowed to demonstrate why they are the best? I have to admit, F1 perplexes me. It almost seems sad that Formula One is in the position that it is. The funny thing is that nearly every racing series finds itself in the identical position, regardless of the TV audience. They have no idea how to present their best side. What a shame. Small wonder, then, that the racing enthusiast has to tell people, "It's just not the same as being there".

I will conclude by saying this: Heintz-Harald Frentzen was onto something. Most likely, he didn't know it, but he shot a bulls-eye. He exposed the FIA, and Max Mosley as the new millennium, Keystone Kops. Sure, it's been said before, but never has it been so easy to see. And nobody seemed to notice!

"Sir Jack Brabham was saying, before the Grand Prix started, that he believed the modern cars were becoming almost too safe, allowing drivers to take risks they might otherwise have thought twice about, knowing that they're almost certain to be able to walk away."
Eoin Young, Planet-F1

"Racing drivers are always willing to accept a certain level of risk.....So the more they perceive their situation is safe, the more they will extend their envelope of performance accordingly. Perhaps they would show more caution if they were not driving a bulletproof car." 
Martin Whitmarsh, Managing Director, McLaren

"I don't think he will worry at all, and, even if it might sound like a strange philosophy, in a way that sort of accident probably strengthens his resolve and probably boosts his confidence....Especially since he went through that sort of magnitude of shunt and came out completely unhurt."
Jock Clear, Jacques Villeneuve's race engineer

Analysis: What is a racing driver? It is the simplest, and hardest, question to answer. There are a lot of racing drivers, but very few great, racing drivers. Many drivers can drive a race car fast, but few drivers are capable of pushing a car on, or past its limits, lap after lap. This is why we love Formula One. Those are the drivers we are dealing with here.

At the top wrung, of the highest ladder of racing, drivers are under incredible pressure to show their worth. Don't assume that the lion's share of that pressure comes from the outside, either. Money will never power ruthlessness on a race track; that's giving money way too much credit. It seems a stretch of logic to think a driver is thinking about money when he is dicing on the track. The same can't be said for winning. The point?

It matters little, what sort of car is being raced in Formula One, or any other series. A driver is a driver. If the cars were only fractionally as safe as they currently are, race car drivers are still going to be on the limit. To say a more dangerous car would, or could, prevent drivers from taking unnecessary risks is absurd. I believe that discredits the great drivers of old, and any top driver, now.

It's commonly admitted that Ayrton Senna ushered in a "win-at-all-costs" style of driving, and Michael Schumacher has carried the torch on. It doesn't seem logical to assume that increased safety has been the reason for this sort of behavior, rather, the knowledge of the drivers, that the FIA will let "anything go".

"We spent a lot of money to stage the event and we need to sell tickets and the hospitality suites in Sepang to cover the cost. So if Malaysians want to watch the race live they can buy a ticket and come watch it here. The deal has been done now and there will be no reversing our decision."
Basir Ismail, Sepang Circuit Chairman, defending the decision to black-out the race on local TV in order to fill the stands

"That's a definite possibility."
Hishamuddin Tun Hussein, Malaysian Sports Minister, on the prospects of lower ticket prices, next year 

Analysis: Somehow, someway, the blame and the repercussions always fall to the fans. Even when men as Tun Hussein, openly admit their mistakes.

"He could be as stubborn as anyone I have ever met, and once an idea was fixed in his head, there it stayed, untouched by any contrary argument. He could also be brutally, embarrassingly, direct, in ways that sometimes made you wince. I well remember a leading Grand Prix driver, albeit not a top one, one Saturday afternoon pondering why he was so far down the grid. "Because you're not very good," said Jenks, munching on an apple. I wanted the ground to open up..."

"'What do they want to slow them down for?" he would always say. "The whole point of motor racing is go faster...'" 
Nigel Roebuck, "Ask Nigel", Autosport, speaking of his late friend, the legendary Grand Prix journalist, Denis Jenkinson

"Jenks was a character. He lived in a little cottage in a wood with motorcycles all around it, and bits of 'bikes everywhere inside it. Electricity came from a generator - if you switched on the light in the lavatory, the living room went dim. He once offered a colleague a meal and sat there while his guest ate. 'Aren't you having anything?' asked the guest. Jenks said, 'I can't, you've got the plate.'"

"Jenks felt that there was a spiritual element in motor racing. There was a mystical bond between man, machine and road. Nobody was forced to take up the challenge, but if the challenge was diminished, so was the achievement. If a knight goes slaying dragons, the more dangerous the dragon, the greater the glory."
Mike Lawrence, Planet-F1

Analysis: Many veteran Formula One writers, particularly the British , give credit to Jenkinson for their desire to write about racing. I can't say the same thing, since I have only known of Jenkinson for three or four years now. That isn't to say I don't understand why these men were drawn and inspired by 'Jenks'. I now have Jenkinson's masterpiece, The Racing Driver, and it is my favorite racing book. 

From the stories past along by writers like Roebuck and Lawrence, Jenks was quite the character. More importantly, though, he cared little for soothing fragile egos. That wasn't his job. Writing about Grand Prix racing on its own glorious terms was his task. If feelings got hurt, then, so it was.

My favorite story of Jenks was something else I read by Roebuck on "Ask Nigel". I'll let Roebuck explain:

"I recall that in the mid-80s he wrote something trenchant about Elio de Angelis, to which Elio took strong exception. In the Lotus pit at Hockenheim, they exchanged heated words, and eventually an exasperated de Angelis pushed Jenks aside. It wasn't a hard shove, but Jenks somehow tripped, and fell over.

"He wasn't hurt, but he was mighty angry. Later that day I watched the race with him, in the stadium section, and as the cars came round on their warm-up lap he said he was going to put a 'hex' on de Angelis. This he duly did, pointing the index and little fingers of his right hand at the black car as it came by, and muttering oaths as he did so.

"Trouble was, he got the wrong Lotus. "That was Mansell," I pointed out, "not de Angelis." "Oh, bugger me!" said the venerable scribe. "I've wished bad luck on the wrong bloke..."

"Jacques Villeneuve is a romantic, a driver from a slipped generation. It could be his father Gilles talking. 'To go home after a race and know that you were the only one who went through a corner flat out without lifting or without braking - or you did a huge sideways that you probably shouldn't have caught and you managed to catch it - that is the kind of pride that drives me in racing'. Jacques said he believed that was the sort of attitude to racing largely missing from Formula 1 in the modern era." 
Eoin Young, Planet-F1

Analysis: Two things here; first, excuse the Midwestern American slant, but Eoin Young's columns for Planet-F1 kick ass. Another great storyteller. If you ask me, you don't know Grand Prix racing unless you know the history of it. There is no shortage of writers that tell the tales of days gone by. The sad fact, though, is a large portion of racing fans could care less for history. That's too bad, because the past is full of colorful stories and characters. It is not lost on ALL of us, though. We're listening, Eoin.

Second, Jacques Villeneuve. I've always liked Jacques. To be honest, I've never been sure exactly why. Maybe because he came from CART, where he won the championship and The Indy 500. Maybe because Villeneuve was challenging Schumacher, a man I've never been personally fond of.

Over time, though, I've come to appreciate Villeneuve's uncommon bravery. I never saw his dad race, so I can't make a comparison, but I know what I see in Jacques. A racer who is always pushing, even if he knows that he can't win the race. In 1997, Villeneuve looked great at times, and over-matched at others. In the season finale, when Schumacher took off, I assumed Villeneuve wouldn't have the nerve or the speed to catch, much less, pass Schumacher. How wrong I was. When Villeneuve took on his second set of tires, he began to gather up the German ace. In a absolutely masterful way, he pulled the rub from beneath Schumacher, and made his move. Not even Schumacher's cheap shot could stop Villeneuve. No one deserved it more than Jacques.

The perfect image, though, of Villeneuve comes from the US GP last year. Fighting for third place, Villeneuve made a heroic, but ultimately, failed attempt at Heintz-Harald Frentzen at the end of the front straight. Villeneuve forgot all about the concept of braking, such was his desire to get ahead of Frentzen. It wasn't so much the result, as the spirit of the move, and indeed, even after Villeneuve botched the first attempt, he was aiming for a second, but simply ran out of time.

Villenueve has always been his own man. He has stressed that he is a different person from his dad. The fact remains, as Young writes, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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Others by Steve

Hindsight and Melbourne 3/13/01

Backyard F1-II 3/1/01

F1 Musings 2/25/01

Backyard F1-I 2/23/01

Senna and Earnhardt - Rest in peace 2/19/01

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