JUNE 22, 2007
The return of Ralf?
It has been common knowledge in F1 circles for the last month that Ralf Schumacher was on the skids at Toyota. A number of very good sources reported that Ralf had been given two races to brush up his act or face the bullet. In Montreal he survived a chaotic race to finish eighth, but he had been lucky and would not have been near the pace if the race had not been disrupted by accidents and Safety Cars.
At Indianapolis he crashed at the first corner for no apparent reason. That looked like being the final straw, but this week Ralf has been testing at Silverstone and behaving as though he is going to be with the team for the rest of the year.
This is decidedly odd.
Ralf is, at best, mediocre these days, although last year he occasionally managed to pop in a performance that suggested that he might be worth half what he is being paid. This year, we have seen none of that. The Toyota car regularly looks good in free practices and tests but rarely qualifies well and while Jarno Trulli has scored two seventh places and a sixth, Ralf's two eighth places look decidedly lacklustre. The ultimatum was logical. It seems however that, for whatever reason, Toyota has now baulked at the idea of replacing Ralf and one can only surmise that getting rid of a supposed star and then having a replacement who might not do any better is too big a risk for a Toyota executive to take. Franck Montagny is at least hungry, which is not a word that leaps to mind when discussing Schumacher, but he does not have much racing experience in F1 and therefore is a risk.
The failure of Toyota to make a decisive move will be seen in F1 circles as a reflection on the way the team operates and, many believe, an illustration of why the team will never be successful in its current form. Refusing to face up to hard problems and pretending that they do not exist is not going to do anything for the results, for the team morale or for the reputation of the company.
That means that it is going to take a rather bigger upheaval than the replacement of a driver, to get the team moving in the right direction.
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