Backyard F1 - V

 by Steve Dean
April 14, 2001

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"He got it right, braking very late. He pushed me wide but that is normal racing. We touched but that was not a problem. I thought I might get him back but I could not." 
Michael Schumacher, on being passed by Montoya

"I understand that Michael wasn't too impressed by Juan's overtaking maneuver but I've seen Michael doing very similar moves on other drivers. I think Michael's recognized that he's got somebody equally as tough as himself out there." 
Patrick Head, Williams Technical Director

"That was an extremely, ballsy move."
David Hobbs, Speedvision, on JPM's pass of MS

"I have not been alone in suspecting for some time that, in Montoya, we have the next truly great Grand Prix driver. After Sunday, it's just possible that the idea may even have crossed Michael's mind..."
Nigel Roebuck, "Ask Nigel", Autosport.com

"Michael Schumacher's competence seems to have left him after Juan Pablo Montoya's pass of him."
David Hobbs, Speedvision

Analysis: Hobbs called it competence. That, I don't know. One thing was for sure: something left Schumacher after Montoya muscled his way past the three-time World Champion. Whether it was BMW power, a superior set-up, or a fearless rookie, kicking the door in, Schumacher and his Ferrari had few answers for the Montoya/Williams/BMW combination in Brazil.

Who knows? Maybe someday, we will all look back at this race as the changing of the guard. One race, however, doesn't make a career. Montoya needs to finish, as well as excel in the races. Consistently. 

That said, however, I felt exactly as Hobbs did. Before the safety car left the track, I told the person I was with, "If ever Montoya would have an advantage, it will be now." Meaning, the restart. Sure enough, as soon as the race restarted, Montoya made his decisive move. Giving no, and taking no, quarter, Montoya clearly demonstrated how much respect he was willing to afford Schumacher. None.

And what of Schumacher? He fought all the way through that first corner, until he realized Montoya, decidedly, wasn't going to yield an inch. In a matter of seconds, Montoya had done what had taken Mika Hakkinen years to do: stiff-arm his way past Schumacher. In his third race!  Even with the mighty BMW, the pass said more of Montoya's mental prowess, than anything else. 

Small wonder, then, Schumacher's driving was positively uninspired, afterwards. That seemed to continue, later on, as Schumacher had no answer for David Coulthard, and his McLaren/Mercedes, either. Schumacher and Ferrari later stated that they had the wrong set-up for race. That, however, seemed to be wishful thinking, on Ferrari's part, when it is considered how much the team, and its number one driver, had the field out-classed in similar conditions, just one race ago. 

Surely, Ferrari had some working knowledge of the Brazilian weather. How COULD they get it so wrong? Or did they? 

One thing is sure: Montoya is only half of Michael Schumacher's problem. If Michael's brother Ralf, can keep a car between himself and Rubens Barrichello, he should, also, be kicking his brother aside. After all, Ralf has out-qualified Juan Pablo, every time. But keep in mind, the experience advantage Ralf has over Juan. Make no mistake, though, Montoya is the big half of Michael's problem. And he knows it.

It needs to be remembered, Montoya lost total control in the treacherous conditions in Sepang. Conditions that surfaced again, at Interlagos. We also need to keep in mind that Michelin doesn't have a wet-weather tire that measures up to Bridgestone. Indeed, the French company doesn't even supply its teams with an intermediate tire. Until we see Montoya's wet-weather driving, in a Formula One car, with competent rubber, we cannot know for sure if he would have won Sunday's race. What we can see, though, is the fact that it matters little which Schumacher, or whichever driver Montoya races against; for when he is in a quick car, he has, in David Hobbs terms, "competence".

"You cannot 'create' traction. It (Traction Control) can only maximize the available traction."
Steve Matchett, Speedvision

Analysis:  I've never been a fan of Sam Posey's drab, melodramatic delivery. I was, also, never a big fan of Bobby Unser's broadcast abilities, until I realized he talked well over Posey's voice, during IndyCar races. Speedvision's broadcast team of Posey, Bob Varsha, David Hobbs, and Steve Matchett is better than anything to come from an American F1 broadcast, if, for no other reason than Hobbs and Matchett provide the color commentary.

I don't mind Bob Varsha. He is competent, and has a fluid style, but often, I feel like I know more about F1 than he does. Quite often, I get the feeling Varsha is catering to the broad fan. The broad fan doesn't wake up at 6:30 in the morning to watch a Formula One race. Treat it as such, Bob; we know all about semi-automatic transmissions, and the fact that Traction-Control will be returning in Spain. Over all, though, Varsha is a comfortable, play-by-play, if you will, announcer. Although, it must be said, during the Australian GP, we spilled OJ on ourselves, laughing, when Varsha brought us back from a commercial, with a camera shot of Melbourne, stating, "Australia, home of Australian rules football."

Hobbs is off-beat, instinctive, and often, on the money. I've always felt Hobbs has a strong connection to the fan. I always learned more from Hobbs, than anyone else, when I watched my early ESPN F1 broadcasts. He also did a fine job on CBS's coverage of The Daytona 500.

Matchett was a member of the Benetton team during the Michael Schumacher salad days. Matchett says far fewer words than the rest of the crew, but makes the most of his opportunities. More often than not, when the other members of the crew want a reliable answer to a technical issue, Matchett delivers. He notices the things a crew member would notice, and has the presence of mind to inform the viewer.

But damm it, I still don't agree with his comment here. He speaks like he still is an active member of a crew, hiding something. You can take the man from the paddock, but you can never take the paddock from the man. The very notion of Traction-Control is to create traction. But I digress, that is another barrel of monkeys.

If we could track down Bobby Unser, Speedvision could have a Five-Star broadcast. Until then, for what it's worth, we will settle for a product that is superior to its predecessor. I give it a B- on the sliding scale.

"Such accidents can be bad luck. But when such things happen so regularly, he (Barrichello) should be told: 'You are suspended for two races. Think it over'."
Niki Lauda, Jaguar "advisor", on Barrichello being involved in a third straight accident in as many races

"He (Barrichello) should be sanctioned for that. I think he should stop trying to be as fast as my brother. He won't manage that no matter how hard he tries."
Ralf Schumacher

"I was behind Ralf when he suddenly changed line, probably to pass another car and he braked in front of me. I did not expect this and the collision was inevitable after that. These things happen in racing. However, I think we need to get a clear ruling from FIA about how many times one can change line in these circumstances."
Rubens Barrichello

Analysis:  For Rubens, the hits just keep coming. The wrong sort of hits, of course. In Imola, many eyes will be eyeing the Brazilian. What will he do next, seems to be the thinking. As the famous TV show says: "Is that your final answer?" Many think Rubens is close to being asked this question from Ferrari management, and for that matter, all eternity. For Rubens, the time is now.

"Do we go to a complete dry set-up and bang the wets on, or do we compromise? We decided to compromise, and it made the car a little bit difficult at the beginning. But I knew I was on one stop, so I thought this isn't looking too bad. Montoya was looking strong, and the Michelins were obviously performing well, but I was waiting for the rain. I wasn't praying for it, because it's always a bit hit and miss in the wet, but I just felt that we had probably positioned ourselves better for those conditions, and clearly we had." 

"Yes, I had a lot of fuel on board. I was surprised that although Michael was running lighter, he didn't seem that strong, did he?"
David Coulthard, Autosport.com

"We have not found exactly what went wrong. The problem is that we cannot simulate the conditions in Brazil at Fiorano. The circumstances there were rather extreme. It was obvious there was something wrong. We were nowhere in conditions in which we usually shine - rain."

"After one overtaking maneuver you are not automatically the champion. You need more. Don't misunderstand me, he did a fantastic race, but sometimes the media makes too much out of things. If you look at the pure lap times you see my brother was eight-tenths faster than Montoya, so the real winner should have been my brother."
Michael Schumacher, Autosport.com

Analysis:  It is always difficult for a star athlete to admit when he is out-classed. It bruises the fragile ego. It is always easier for someone like Schumacher to admit he made a mistake, than admitting he was beat. As much as Ferrari and Schumacher would lead us to believe they had a bad set-up at Interlagos, I think the bruised ego syndrome has more application in this particular case. Schumacher has been the cock of the rock for years, now, even when he hasn't won the championship. Now that perch on the granite is in question.

What a difference a race makes. After Sepang, Schumacher looked as if he were set for cruise control. Now he has to fight accusations that he has lost a step on the "new" generation. If Montoya lives up to the billing, we may see what Schumacher might have looked like, had Senna lived. Either way, F1 has closed one chapter, and opened a new one.

David Coulthard. Lost in Montoya explosion, was a mature, well-thought out race, by Coulthard and McLaren. As stated earlier, no one knows how Montoya may have fared once the monsoon struck. As Coulthard states above, their set-up had counted on a variable race, which was what the race turned into. As so it went...Coulthard made a fine pass on Schumacher, to take the lead, and was in control. By then, I believe, Schumacher's nerve was shot. That is not to take anything away from Coulthard. The Scottish driver isn't above a scrap with the German, and made a brave, and decisive pass.

It would be all the more impressive, if Coulthard could perform at this level with any ring of consistency, but as he has proven, year after year, the golden performances are usually offset, with frequent, rusty performances. Maybe this year is different. Sound familiar? As with Rubens Barrichello, the time is now.

"It has taken me 30 years to build up Formula One into what it is today and it could take just six months to destroy it......The bottom line is that the manufacturers had the opportunity to come in, through EMTV, long before Kirch came on the scene. It was a good proposal that they didn't take up." 
Bernie Ecclestone 

"In the end, we have to recognize that if the manufacturers are united, they control the teams and drivers and hold more cards than Kirch." 
Max Mosley

"As a result of recent developments, and in the best interests of motor sport, it has been unanimously agreed to set up a joint company, the purpose of which will be to establish, as soon as possible, a new open-wheels single-seat racing car series."
Paulo Canterella, head of Fiat (Ferrari), and European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA)

"For anyone who has followed the decline of American open-wheel racing since the breakaway Indy Racing League was formed, that statement held ominous implications."
Forrest Bond, Racefax.com, on the above quote from Bernie Ecclestone

"Ecclestone, however, may be as much a contributor to the manufacturers' increasing concerns as Kirch. Initially, Ecclestone assured one and all that he would block Kirch from acquiring shares in SLEC. He did not. Then he pointed out that the shares carried no voting rights, but neglected to mention the ability to appoint board directors, and thus to effectively control SLEC."
Forrest Bond, Racefax.com

Analysis: This last week's developments have proven one clear fact: despite all efforts to prevent it, history will always repeat itself. The mentality that says, "It can't happen here" is just the line of thinking that assures it WILL happen there. Someone needs to tell these men how the state of American open-wheel racing is faring. The lessons have been applied. The results are in. Gangrene has set in. Will history repeat itself?

First of all, I would be remiss, if I didn't give an nod of acknowledgment to Forrest Bond. There is no other way to say it. Forrest writes the articles that can't be found anywhere else. So much of what is reported from the world of racing is done in whispers. With Bond, it is loud and clear. 

Even with Bond's excellent article, as a reference, many questions remain unanswered. For instance, no one can say for certain if Kirch has made his initial payment to SLEC and Bernie Ecclestone. With that money, Ecclestone must pay the FIA, to secure the broadcast rights to Formula One. We know that hasn't happened yet. Due to the conflict with ACEA and the Kirch Gruppe, it is known that Ecclestone missed his payment to the FIA. Out of nowhere, came the April 11th deadline. In order to secure the 100 year stranglehold on F1 TV rights, a $260 million payment was to be transferred by that date.

As soon as the auto manufacturers began to cry foul about the Kirch-SLEC arrangement, Bernie, as he is so willing to do, began playing both sides of the fence. Originally, as Bond writes, he wasn't willing to sell to Kirch, but it in the end, he actions were dictated by his wallet. Then the auto manufacturers told the world they were planning on starting their own racing series. That's when Bernie seemed to jump to the other side of the fence.

In effect, by missing the April 11th deadline, Ecclestone, and the FIA, have strong-armed Kirch into yielding to the auto companies. Maybe they can get it right this time; maybe, make a bid on some SLEC shares. You know, control. The sort of control Kirch is rumored to now have, since he, supposedly, has the right to name six of the eight board directors of SLEC. So much for non-voting shares, huh, Mr. Ecclestone?

This being Formula One, there is no end in sight for a solution, or logic. Say what you will of Leo Kirch, but he is the one who gathered the financing for the SLEC deal and, depending on who you believe, bought 75% of SLEC. The auto manufacturers missed the boat, and now demand justice. For that, they turn to the always elusive, Bernie Ecclestone. 

The billion dollar question remains: has the Kirch Gruppe paid their money to Bernie Ecclestone? If they have, everything else becomes mute. Even Ecclestone's ego will not survive a court battle if Kirch dotted his P's and Q's. In that case, it's entirely possible an alternative World Championship could be created. Anyway you look at that scenario, as we have seen in America, the clouds become very dark, indeed.

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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Others by Steve

Backyard F1 - IV 3/30/01

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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