Backyard F1 - IV

 by Steve Dean
March 30, 2001

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"The best thing in this race was that it was over.....in rain it was terrible to drive."
Mika Hakkinen

"The fact is, our car isn't quick enough at the moment."
David Coulthard 

"I'd say being in the shit is being technical director of McLaren or Ferrari. They're already at the top. How do you improve on that? The climb up is the interesting bit. Trying to stay at the top is a nightmare. And the trip down? That's no fun at all."
Steve Nichols, Jaguar Technical Director

".....anyone who is thinking of writing us off are burning their bridges too early." 
Ron Dennis

Analysis: The grumpiest man in the pit lane is, undoubtedly, Ron Dennis. In comparison to the last few years, the McLaren-Mercedes has come out of 2001 shooting blanks. Their aerodynamic package is off the pace. Rumblings about reliability continue to get under Dennis's skin. 

Nichols's comment, while easier said from the back half of the grid, has a lot of merit. That's not to say McLaren is dropping off the map; that would be ridiculous. The fact remains, though, McLaren's car has failed to take full advantage of the new aerodynamic restrictions. Also, if the early signs are accurate, Mercedes has gone from the best motor in the world, to the second best motor in Germany.

Ferrari, on the other hand, have come out of the starting blocks at full pace, giving Schumacher an advantage he hasn't had years: the best car. Schumacher in the best car leaves the rest of the field praying for a blown Prancing Horse, or a brain blunder, both possible. That's about their only hope. Hakkinen is damn good, but lets be honest; he needs a car as fast as Schumacher's to have a chance. Right now, that isn't the case. A fact not lost on Ron Dennis.

As tight-lipped as F1 people are, it is a surprise, sometimes, when obvious tension surfaces in "unflappable" people. It strikes all the best. Hard questions don't answer themselves; and they sure don't go away. They ARE aimed at the same people, however. Always, the men in charge. Ron Dennis is in charge, and you don't have to be on the inside to see that Dennis doesn't have the answers right now. Damn right, he's grouchy.

"This is yet another example of somebody not using their brain. As was the case in Melbourne, I was shunted off at the first corner by Verstappen I believe. Given the space at the first corner, I can't begin to imagine what was going through his head."
Eddie Irvine

"Apparently he came down to see me and apologise but whatís the point in talking about it? The only thing that works in a case like this is revenge."
Eddie Irvine, after Jacques Villeneueve inadvertently blocked Irvine during qualifying

"Villeneuveís blocking of Eddie canít be used as an excuse." 
Bobby Rahal, Jaguar Team Boss

Analysis: Excuse me for snickering, but I find it amusing when Irvine points out, to the world, when someone else is not using their brain. Or, for that matter, imagining what was going on in someone else's head. Now, he talks of revenge. 

Bobby Rahal, has probably pondered all of these things too, but I'm willing to bet he wasn't snickering. Rahal, and Ford, don't have the time or patience for Irvine's reasons for doing poorly in the races. Now, apparently, they have to deal with a driver bent on revenge.

I have a few friends who say I'm too hard on Irvine. They feel he doesn't deserve the shagging he gets in the press. I disagree. Irvine knows full well what he is doing, as he sprays in-your-face quotes around, like they were carrying an antidote. That has been his game for years. I'd be lying if I didn't say men like Irvine make this column go. Formula One is all the better for it too. That, however, doesn't change the fact Irvine is full of shit more often than not.

Maybe his "revenge" comment was said in jest. I don't know, I wasn't there, but if Irvine is using revenge as a motive for success, he is in more trouble than he is willing to admit. That also goes for Bobby Rahal and Niki Lauda, too. Jaguar has more than enough to worry about without dealing with a renegade driver. It would not be that surprising, at all, to see Jaguar, with two new drivers next year. 

"It was a bit sad, to be honest with you. I came too close to the car in front, a Jordan, and I lost momentum and he took his chance. At that time I would say a team-mate would just stay composed and would wait for some chances in front. At the end of the day I would have had to stop once more anyway so I don't think I would have won the race."
Rubens Barrichello

"I don't think it's really a point. The situation is, as Rubens said, he had a moment behind another car out of Turn 8 and I got so much more speed into Turn 9 it was very easy to overtake there. So there was no reason not to go for it.  We're team-mates, we respect each other, we leave each other room not to hurt each other, but I was on a better go and as you have seen afterwards I was faster as well, so I didn't want to lose much time. I don't think it's to the point of an accident......He can see in the mirrors as well."
Michael Schumacher

"You can only beat Michael when heís not there, or when he lets you win. To be honest, Iím amazed that Barrichello still doesnít understand this after one year with Ferrari. I doubt very much that I could have won anything in 1999 if Schumacher had been there fighting for the title." 
Eddie Irvine, ITV-F1.com 

Analysis: What is going through Rubens's head? 

Maybe it's possible he had illusions of fighting Schumacher for the championship, straight up. Maybe he was stoned. Maybe I was wrong for dressing down Barrichello earlier in the year for complaining about "pressure". Maybe he really is feeling the pressure. Despite qualifying hot on Schumacher's tail, his race performances have been sloppy. He has punted off a couple of drivers that have gotten the better of him. Maybe he's asleep.

Currently, Barrichello is working on a new Ferrari contract. Perhaps that can explain his new, misplaced aggression. Surely, he understands the conditions of the unbreakable, plexi-glass, Schumacher ceiling. 

Our friend, Eddie Irvine, is often lost in the woods when shooting from the hip, but on this occasion, he has hit it head-on. Irvine knows from experience, how uncomfortable it is, having a ruthless, World Champion for a teammate. All of this, seems to be lost on Barrichello.

It's hard to imagine that Barrichello is as naive as he is letting on. It's even harder to feel sympathetic for Barrichello. I can only imagine the radio conversation during Schumacher's pass off Barrichello, in Sepang.

Barr: "OK, let's hold tight till we clear these cars. Let's wait till lap.......what the fuc....."

Schu: "Oh, sorry, Rubens, old chap, I thought you meant LAST lap. See ya."

Someone tell Rubens to turn the alarm off.

"We got the maximum out of the car and the maximum out of me, especially at the start - I think that's one of my best ones yet!"
Jos Verstappen

"A low downforce strategy and a magnificently aggressive drive by Jos Verstappen gave the team a well-deserved seventh place today."
Guy Audoux, Asiatech

Analysis: Whatever happened at that first corner in Malaysia - all apologies to Eddie Irvine - it had no profound effect on the overall race. Not when the whole picture of the race changed during the monsoon. It's impossible to tell how well Irvine may have fared, since he only lasted four laps. 

Verstappen, however, made the most of his opportunity. For one race. Sure, he only finished seventh, but it was the most exciting seventh place finish in ages. I'm not sure, exactly, whether it said more about the McLaren, or the Arrows, the way the silver car struggled to make clear of the orange car. What I am sure of, though, is the "tiger", Verstappen threw around the track in Sepang. 

It was very impressive, above all; yet, it would have been far more impressive if the performance were the work of a twenty-two or twenty-three year old driver, than a twenty-nine year old "veteran". In reality, Jos Verstappen must continue to overachieve, to prolong his chances of ever seeing the brighter side of Grand Prix racing. There are too many young, bravehearts, waiting around, to waste much time or money on the Jos Verstappen's of the world.

What does it all mean? Seems to me, a Formula One driver must make every second count, regardless the shit they're strapped with. I know it's a tried and tired cliche, but there is a true meaning to "giving 100%". So many piss it away, in frustration and fits of ego. Case in example, Jean Alesi. For sure, a talented driver, and all-around, good guy. But despite being a Grand Prix winner, Alesi has lived off the reputation of one race, and that was in his first year. He has little to show for all his magic in a F1 car.

I wish I were wrong, but I'm afraid Verstappen's drive in Sepang was little more than a middle-of-the-pack driver, taking one last grasp at a long, forgotten dream. Whenever I hope I'm wrong, I'm always right. I hope Jos Verstappen can repeat his performance of Sepang, but I'm afraid history never lies.

"I remember Spa '92, when we were running nose to tail in the rain, him (Michael Schumacher) ahead. As we came through Raidillon I felt a lot of grip, and I thought, "I'm coming in for slicks." A few corners later, at Pouhon, I felt it again, and I thought, "Yes, this lap".

"Then Michael went off the road at Stavelot, gathered it up on the wet grass, just missing the barrier. Anyway, the pitstop entry was after the Bus Stop in those days, and Michael was right on my tail, really on it as we braked for that challenging chicane."

"And yet what he was doing was checking out my rear tyres! You see, it's hard to examine your own, because on the straights you just see a blur; and in the corners you don't really want to be spending too much time looking in your mirrors. You're kind of busy with the view ahead. And that was a clever thing of Michael to do, in the heat of the moment, having just gone off at a fast corner, at Spa, in the wet. Remarkable."

"Of course, Michael saw the damage on my tyres and decided to take the slicks that I suppose I should have had. And he won the race. It's those pivotal moments that make the difference between being good and being great."

"Mika (Hakkinen) is a different animal. I didn't have a good relationship with him in '94....of the two of them, it was Mika who really caught my attention in the white-knuckle, hold-your-breath-and-pray department. You'd look at his telemetry traces and say to yourself, 'How can that be possible? How can he do that?'"

"Mika is a magnificent starter. Starting is all about the head. OK, you need skill - balancing the revs and clutch and throttle and so on - but it's a pretty mechanical task, in truth. The real problem is doing it under pressure - and the pressure, for the likes of Michael and Mika, is intense. Mika's starting is the barometer by which all others in F1 today should measure theirs - whereas, for Michael, it's a constant cause of trouble."

"Of all the drivers I've raced against, the best was Senna. No question. In terms of the whole package, Michael runs him pretty close, with Mika a close second. In terms of raw, God-given talent, Senna is still number one - but it's Mika, not Michael, who comes closest."
Martin Brundle  F1 Racing, March 2001

Analysis: Martin Brundle was a teammate to Michael Schumacher with Benetton in 1992, and to Mika Hakkinen with McLaren in 1994. He is now the color-man for ITV's English F1 coverage. His comparison of the two World Champions in the March issue of F1 Racing is a brilliant piece of racing journalism. Hell, it would be worth it for the two, side-profile pictures of MS and MH in their early years, alone. Brundle lays both drivers on the table for all to see. From personal experience, he goes on to describe all of the attributes that make both men who and what they are. The only thing Brundle left out was the ethical argument. But that's nit-picking, since Brundle's article is more of a technical assessment. Driving styles, if you like. A fascinating read, and a great magazine.

"You know, it's quite funny, because when I went to America I didn't understand their humor, I didn't understand anything." 

"In which way would you say Melbourne wasn't great? I was running fourth and should have finished fourth; I thought that was fucking brilliant."

"I don't think that the car has the potential to win races. I think that if the car had the potential to win races Ralf would be winning races, and Jenson would have won races last year." 

Q: Do you ever get any grief from Patrick or Frank when you have a spin like in qualifying? 
"No. Well, they always say 'Ooh it was going good, but...' - always a but, you know. But you have to understand them; they want to see the cars running up there all the time. And at the same time I want to see the cars running up there too. But to be up there you have to be pushing, and you know, to be in sixth after not running on Friday is pretty good."

"I was right behind Ralf when I braked for the first corner in Melbourne and yet he made a faster start then me. Honestly, on the data his start was faster than mine. I think what really helped was that my reaction time was quite good; actually when (Jacques) Villeneuve started moving I was already beside him. Initially I thought, shit, did I jump the start? Because I was sure that I let in the clutch when the lights were gone, but it's not right that you pass five people at the start in your first Formula One race."

"The team is really excited about it (Malaysian qualifying). Really. Ralf beat both McLarens and I beat Coulthard, and I was just two tenths from Mika. They seem to be struggling quite a lot here, and that's quite encouraging actually." 
Juan Pablo Montoya, as interviewed by Roger Horton, Atlas F1

Analysis: What to make of this brash, young Columbian? A winner everywhere he has landed, from top to bottom; confidence is not one of his shortcomings. He has as many nay-sayers, as sayers. Clearly, not a hidden guest. He doesn't hide from his resume, but he realizes its worth, on this scale.

Likewise, he is as quick to admit his shortfalls, as his windfalls. His quote, about his flying start, past Villeneueve, almost show a personal naivete towards his own skills. If that is true, and Montoya figures it out, Formula One had better watch out. If he is as honest as he is quick, we are looking at the next Schumacher. Or Senna. 

I state, unequivocably, I am not a fan of Juan Pablo Montoya. At times, he makes it hard to fathom. But there is one, other thing, however big or small. All of the greats manage to elbow their way into a dominate ride. From Fangio to Senna. The truly great find a way to match their skills with car, equally as dominate. You don't have to be a member of the Fan Club to appreciate certain things.

Montoya has found his way to Williams. A hungry Williams, with an equally hungry car manufacturer, BMW. Make no mistake, it is very early. It could as fall to tatters in a fortnight. It could, but then again, this is Williams. Sometimes down, but never out. The Williams team has two, young, motivated drivers, who probably appreciate each other, more than will ever see the light of day. 

Ralf Schumacher is seeing himself being pushed right next to his famous brother. It is, most likely, not lost on Ralf, that Montoya will not be short, on the chase, for long. For all Montoya's progress, Schumacher has topped it. As logic has it, the faster Schumacher goes, Montoya goes. We shall see.

My friend, Mike Lawrence, insists, you never know till they show up. That sounds logical. The proof is, indeed, in the pudding. Mike says we'll never know until Montoya does a few years in F1. That, too, is logical. All of that was probably said about many a great driver. Again, it is logical. No driver has ever won the World Championship, in a lesser series. 

For me, the telling thing of Montoya is his open admission of his own performances, whether good or bad. It's a matter of fact to Montoya, but he knows there is still only one way to head: forward. If he comes to accept and adapt to this, we could, very well, be looking at the next Senna, not Verstappen.

Either way, a great interview......

"No Sex Please, Says Sauber"
Headline for The Daily Grapevine's story of Peter Sauber banning girlfriends from the paddock 

"Sex-starved Sauber star Nick Heidfeld has pleaded with team boss Peter Sauber to lift his ban on girlfriends attending races." 
Lead-in, for ITV's story, "Nick Wants Sex Ban Lifted"

Analysis: From the American standpoint, it is curious, and often, amusing to see the differences in The British and The American style of news. I read Nigel Roebuck complain how politically correct everything has become in The UK. Very few American newspapers follow the tabloid mold that many English papers do. The same goes for credible racing and sporting web sites. It's simply not accepted here. Americans, it seems, need to have a morality sheet thrown over the heart of everything "real". At least that's how the politicians view matters. In step, so do television executives.

The American cable channel, HBO, periodically, broadcasts a show that shows other nations of the world, and the manner they treat sex on television. To American eyes, to say the very least, the show is an eye-opener. Surely, the red, white, and blue say, "This must be Pay-Per-View. No way is this stuff on regular TV." But, oh, it is.

Americans love to picture themselves, ourselves, as the cutting edge of everything. Everything. Everything, except sex, nudity, and bad language. We can't have that, in the land of the free. Enter Congressman Protect-us-from-ourselves. We, Americans, have a great sense of humor, as long as we are laughing at someone else. You see, we don't like laughing at ourselves. How else can you explain it? Protecting the kids? Pa-leee-ze.

That's the crazy thing about America. We don't dare fight about where we are. The past, however, is like the Wild, Wild West. Birth? Can't talk about it. The human body? Not during Prime-Time. Reality? Sure, we'll develop a show to deal with that. But 2001? Not on network television, baby.

A couple of years back, the popular police drama, NYPD Blue, showed the bare, fat ass of its main star, Dennis Frantz. It was as calculated of a risk as TV execs figured they could pull off. And it worked. Little was made of the nudity, in the context of "pushing the envelope". Instead, it was one of the biggest jokes of the time. American TV executives didn't have the balls to take the next step: showing a pretty, nude body. 

Therein, lies the ultimate Yankee paradox. We want to be the best, without the growing pains; we want express our First Amendment rights, so long as it doesn't offend anyone. Roebuck complains about PC in the UK? Nigel, you should see it in its birthplace. It makes me want to grab the CD player and listen to Ray Charles sing "America"......somewhere offshore.

How that relates to motor racing, I haven't a clue......

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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Others by Steve

Backyard F1 - III 3/20/01

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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