Backyard F1 - VI

 by Steve Dean
April 29, 2001

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"At the Jaguar press briefing in Malaysia, someone asked (Luciano) Burti what he had been doing since Australia. Well, he said, he'd been to Bali where he had trained hard to get used to the humidity. 

'What about you, Eddie?' someone asked. 'Have you done any training?' 

'No, I've been down the pub every night having six pints and eight whisky chasers!' Eddie replied, ironically. Then, turning to Bobby Rahal, he muttered casually, 'bunch of tossers, aren't they!'"
Tony Dodgins, OnTrackOnline.com

Analysis: Eddie Irvine, may the earth be his playground, always has a place in The Backyard. That probably lumps me in with other "tossers", but things could be worse. 

Always willing to give a colorful quote to the very people he despises, Irvine has built a cottage industry on the backs of "tossers". Needless to say, it is a two-way street.

Irvine isn't worth the reported $10 million a year he gets from Jaguar. Teams should only pay for potential when it's in its infancy. He's funny, but not THAT funny. At 35 years old, and toiling around the wrong end of the grid, Irvine has little choice but to bicker with journalists. How else is he going to stay in the news?

"I've been waiting for this moment for five years. It is a great experience and the result of all of the hard work that the team has done and it has paid off."
Ralf Schumacher, Atlas F1.com 

Analysis: First off, let's preface with the obvious: it is early, Traction Control is on deck, and, well, it was only one race. With that out of the way, it will not be lost on the rest of the front-runners, Ralf's brother included, that the "little" Schumacher, and his Williams/BMW team could be ripe for a Championship run.

Ralf Schumacher is now a veteran F1 driver. Lack of experience is not an excuse that will work for Schumacher. After Imola, however, Schumacher demonstrated, handily, that he needs no excuses. I've said it before, and I think it still carries a lot of merit: Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya appreciate each other more than anyone knows, perhaps even than they realize. Sunday, the dividends were cashed in.

From where I stood, Ralf Schumacher's drive was perfect, from start to finish. Few will doubt the potency of the Williams/BMW combination. On the eve of Traction Control--the legal version--it is hard to fathom Williams, with their history, being left out in the cold. Should Schumacher continue his blistering qualifying performances, and the BMW powerplant remains powerful and reliable, Michael's "little" brother will have his best chance, ever, of grabbing a piece of the pie, that his older brother has fattened up on.

One final note about Ralf Schumacher, Juan Montoya, and the Williams team. It is striking, the similarities between this year, and the year Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve were employed together at Williams. 

During those years, of course, the Williams/Renault duo was the pick of the litter. Just for ships and dribbles, consider the following: 

*For 1996, Villeneuve joined the Williams team, making the switch from America, and IndyCars, where he won the CART championship and the Indy 500. 

*Montoya accomplished those same things, before coming aboard at Williams. 

*Villeneuve was 25 years old in his first season with Williams. 

*Montoya is 25, right now. 

*Villeneuve nearly bagged his first F1 race, before mechanical gremlins let his teammate, Hill, take the win. 

*It took Montoya three races before he nearly won his first F1 race. 

*Villeneuve won four races during his first year.

*While it is not impossible that Montoya could win four times this year, it is unlikely. Then again, the 2001 Williams isn't the dominating force that the '96 Williams was. Not yet, anyway.

*Montoya, like Villeneuve before him, had a veteran teammate. In '96, Damon Hill finally took advantage of driving the best car, and took the championship. 

*In 2001, Ralf Schumacher, finally, has a car that appears to be on the verge of great things. It is not outside the realm of possibility, seeing Ralf Schumacher, in a Williams, winning the championship this year. 

*Villeneuve won the championship in his second year.

*Montoya? His chances increase immediately, with a year of experience. And a dominating car.

Do you believe in karma? I don't. None of this means much. This is the type of thing that goes through my mind, while I drive a truck for a living. Mental ramblings. Still, the similarities are...striking.

"Teams will be using automatic starts, although the trigger for the starts will need to come from the driver. He will need to respond to the lights going out and give a command through whatever mechanism to initiate the start.
Patrick Head, Williams Technical Director, commenting on Traction Control

"I definitely think it (TC) is a very positive thing for Formula 1. It definitely brings more safety, because coming out of the corners with traction control does much more to control the back end in wet conditions."
Mika Hakkinen

"I see it like this: It gives us more freedom to drive a bit faster. And the ability to take the car permanently to the limit is what makes a good driver. It will increase the whole level [of the grid], but at this new higher level, you will see the good drivers remaining the good ones."
Michael Schumacher

Analysis: After all of the bickering, after all the cries from the purists, Traction Control is back. In typical F1 style, it is introduced at the fourth race of the year. Not the first, but fourth. Go figure.

On Sunday, despite what Schumacher says, the World Driving Championship will lose a bit of its luster. Saying nothing of it's heart. Men like Patrick Head and Michael Schumacher have won a large battle. Surely, and not so subtlety, traction control has, like it or not, become a player again. 

Automatic transmissions, launch software, zero wheelspin....I mean, is this what racing is all about? One of the absolute beauties of Grand Prix racing is the variable weather conditions. As thrilling as it is to see Formula One cars race in the dry at Spa, the wet Spa is where a real champion shines. Or so it was.

Mika Hakinnen claims that TC will make the cars safer in wet conditions. He may be right, but at what cost? Now, in the wet, a driver will simply keep his foot to the floor, eliminating a chief factor in determining the skill and bravado of those involved. Men like Hakinnen and Schumacher, it might be argued, might well be safer with TC, but when did safety become a more important tangent than driver skill and awareness? This is progress? 

The teams and their engineers will say TC is nothing more than a natural progression of racing technology, in the quest for a faster car. A car that will rely on the available electronics, rather than the skill of the man . Perhaps that is all true, and surely, the lap times will fall. But the line between driver skill and engineering excellence will become smaller and smaller.

It is understandable, to an extent, that teams want to have a bigger role in determining the actions of their race cars. But when does it become too much? When does racing stop being racing, and become, merely, a technical achievement for the engineers? 

If a driver gets off the line quicker than his opponent, due to better launch control, and wins the race, who really wins? If a driver can take a corner faster than his rival because his wheelspin is less, is he any better driver than his opponent? I don't think so, just like I didn't in 1992, when Nigel Mansell was afforded a car that let him run circles around Ayrton Senna. Not to take anything away from Mansell's driving skills, but Senna never stood a chance. The following year, when Alain Prost took Mansell's seat, Senna was equally outmatched. 

I know, over the years, the best teams have always had some sort of technical advantage over their rivals. But it seems as if F1 is taking the worst applications of that fact, to the detriment of the very thing that draws us to Formula One racing.

It is a shame, in it's best season in years, F1 has taken a huge portion of the driver out of the equation. It is equally as offensive, that we only had the chance to see a driver like Juan Pablo Montoya show his true skills for four races. Put youself in his shoes. You're in F1 on your terms, in a competitive car, where the difference between yourself and a majority of the others is uncompromising bravery. Now that advantage is history.

Welcome to Barcelona; grab your training wheels at the gate. In my opinion, Michael Schumacher is full of crap. Since there is little argument, right now, that Schumacher is the best driver in the paddock, why would he prefer to rely more on driver aids than his own skills? After all, those skills are what seperates him from the men below him. Why would he want to undercut his natural abilities, to the benefit of the rest of the field? That's exactly what he is saying, when he approves of TC for everyone.

Welcome to Barcelona, indeed......

"While Michele could be emotional, he was largely the antithesis of the Italian race car driver, as analytical out of the car as he was in it, where his car-development skills were rightly prized."
Forrest Bond, Racefax.com, Bits & Pieces

"Michele Alboreto was a man with a feel for the past. Dressed in 'period' Auto Union overalls, he looked very proud as he posed for photographers at the Goodwood Festival of Speed last year (1999). Next to him was the supercharged 3-litre V-12 Type D car he was to take up the hill.

'Look at me,' Michele said. 'Dressed like Nuvolari! I tell you, I think I was born 50 years too late. Must have been incredible to be a racing driver in those times. What I cannot imagine is how it must have been to race cars like this. At the Nurburgring! In the rain! Think of it, no seat belt, no helmet...Since driving the car, I have incredible respect for those people who raced them.'"
Nigel Roebuck, "Ask Nigel", Autosport.com

Analysis: I began following Formula One, actively, in 1991. At that point, Michele Alboreto was racing for the Footwork team, at the back end of the grid. In Formula One terms, Alboreto's shelf life was nearing expiration. Back then, I had enough on my plate figuring out the current players and their racing wares to give much thought to the past, with men like Alboreto, Nelson Piquet, Thierry Boutsen, and the like. That, however, was not to last for long.

You see, I'm an avid history buff. It doesn't matter whether it is racing, politics, or science; my curiousity about how things work, how problems are solved, and how people dealt with the obstacles facing them is more important, to me, than what is happening today. My bookshelves are proof of this.

Forget fiction; history is where the real stories are told. It's where the true legends reside. It's where life's lessons are carved in stone, and unfortunately, it's also where they gather dust. 

Too many people say history bores them. They say they don't have time to dive into the past. If you ask me, that is depressing. Consequently, those same people are likely to forget, in a short while, what happened today.

That brings me back to Formula One, and Michele Alboreto. In the same article I lifted the quote from Roebuck, he states that for the overwhelming majority of modern F1 pilots, history began the day they entered Formula One. Really, that comes as no surprise. As insular and pretentious as modern grand prix drivers go, it should come as no shock to realize these guys might have a hard problem believing in an outside world. Or, for that matter, a life before theirs.

Obviously, Alboreto was from a different mold. While not missing an ego that would be in place today, he was proud of his place in racing. No one will put Alboreto in the class of the greats he admired. But today, that matters little. What does matter, though, is that racing has lost a true believer and lover. A man, unlike his younger counterparts, that appreciated and respected those that preceeded him. A man, at 44 years old, that still had a burning desire to see the checkered flag. Put that in the history books. Even if few will ever read it.

The author can be contacted at contacts@autoracing1.com

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Others by Steve

Backyard F1 - V 4/14/01

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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