AUGUST 4, 2003
Williams in a quandary...
The BMW Willliams team might have dominated the German Grand Prix in dramatic fashion but the accident which put Ralf Schumacher out of the race could come back and bite the team. The FIA stewards at Hockenheim concluded that Ralf had caused an avoidable accident and ruled that he should drop 10 grid positions "at the driver's next race".
The wording of the penalty is rather different to the only previous occasion that such a penalty has been imposed. Last autumn Felipe Massa ran into a similar problem but his penalty was worded differently because it said that he would drop 10 places on the grid "at the next race". This meant that Sauber could dodge the penalty by putting Massa onto the subs bench and bringing in Heinz-Harald Frentzen for one race. Williams cannot do that because whenever Ralf next shows up for a race he will drop to the midfield after qualifying.
This creates a real problem because starting in the midfield these days means that a driver can rarely get through the field and score as many points as the team would want. David Coulthard is in some difficulties in the eyes of the McLaren bosses because he has not done well enough this year in qualifying and that means he has collected far fewer points than perhaps he should have done. Ralf is now 12 points adrift of Juan Pablo Montoya in the Drivers' World Championship so it probably doesn't matter that much to him. But it does matter to the team because the battle in the Constructors' Championship is very close and, with only two points between Ferrari and Williams, Ralf's penalty could decide that championship.
The only way that the team can avoid suffering for their driver's indiscretion is to drop Ralf for the rest of the year and put in another driver to collect up points for the team. BMW probably would not like this but the lure of being able to claim to be World Champions might sway the people in Munich.
Williams is unusual in that it has a test driver who has done much more mileage in recent years than the race drivers. In the last 18 months Marc Gene has completed something like 38,000km of testing and often he is as quick as the regular drivers. But he has not raced that much, although he is competing this year in Formula Nissan.
Williams needs to weigh up the problem and decide whether to risk a switch of driver or to hope that Ralf can get through the field in Budapest without colliding with anyone else. The Hungaroring is a track that is famed for its lack of overtaking and Ralf has often tended to err on the side of caution when it comes to taking risks.
In the past Williams has been willing to throw away the Drivers' title in order to be sure to secure the Constructors' crown. Williams has won seven Drivers' titles in the last 25 years and nine Constructors' titles.
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