MONACO GP - SATURDAY - QUALIFYING SESSION 1 REPORT

Michael's dodgy pole

Michael Schumacher, Monaco GP 2006

Michael Schumacher, Monaco GP 2006 

 © The Cahier Archive

There is a restaurant in old Monaco called Pinocchio's and one can only wonder if Michael Schumacher will be dining there on Saturday evening as there were more than a few people in the Formula 1 paddock who think that Michael's pole was growing on his face.

They did not believe a word he said in the post-qualifying press conference after he locked up at Rascasse on his final flying lap, steered wide and came to a stop without hitting the barrier. This left the Ferrari half-blocking the track and yellow flags being waved. And then he stalled. The drivers behind him could not complete their fast laps and there is no doubt at all that if the laps had been finished Fernando Alonso would have been on pole position. Mark Webber might even have stolen second place.

Schumacher said later he had made a mistake. Nobody in the Media Centre believed him. This may be because of his history of doing unsporting things at important moments. One thinks of Adelaide 1994 when he drove into Damon Hill. One thinks of Jerez in 1997 when he drove into Jacques Villeneuve.

The fact is that in such matters Michael has a track record and whenever there are question marks over an incident it is inevitable that his motives will be questioned. This is the tragedy of Michael Schumacher and why he will never be thought of as a champion in the same league of the greatest names of the sport. Statistics mean nothing because there are always going to be people who will remember the other stuff.

But let us return to the big issue. Was this "a professional foul"? There is no shortage of evidence to back up the theory. Alonso and Webber were both on flying laps behind him and both had to abort their runs. The cynical fellows in the F1 Media Centre reacted immediately and it was good to see that the FIA also thought that this was a subject worth investigating.

Certainly Alonso was not a happy man and while he did not say what everyone was thinking, he made it clear that he felt he had been robbed.

"I was three-tenths quicker," he said. "I do my maximum in the car and the car was performing OK. I dominated all weekend and to lose the last lap because of an accident is not a good moment."

Fernando's face said it all.

"I have my opinion and I am not going to say it here," he said, trying to be diplomatic.

Sporting even.

When the press began asking nasty questions - the word "cheating" was even used - Michael crawled on to the moral high ground and said that no-one would ask a question if they had been driving around the track.

No journalist can ever argue that one.

But let us be charitable.

Michael made a mistake. He is a world class driver who made himself look like a rank amateur. If he prefers the world to see him in this light and he wins the race on Sunday, then so be it. If he was being underhand, which a lot of people seemed to think was the reality, let us hope that his apparent incompetence returns on Sunday and he crashes and clears the way for people who appreciate the true meaning of the word sport.

Winning is not everything. It is how you do it that matters.

"Whatever you do your enemies believe one thing and your supporters believe another," Schumacher said. "Some people may not believe this but that is the world we live in."

There was not much else to talk about in the sessions. Felipe Massa had messed up early on in Q1 and shunted and so was out of the picture for the race. At the end of that session Massa was joined by Christijan Albers, Tiago Monteiro, Scott Speed, Takuma Sato and Franck Montagny. Kimi Raikkonen was fastest with Alonso on his tail.

The second session took care of Ralf Schumacher, Christian Klien, Tonio Liuzzi, Jenson Button, Jacques Villeneuve and Nick Heidfeld. Raikkonen was fastest, a tenth ahead of Alonso.

And so we went into the final 10 run-off with pole up for grabs and several teams in the hunt. It bwas very tight between Ferrari, McLaren and Renault and even the Williams looked to be quick enough on this occasion to give a shock.

Schumacher led the way at the beginning but it was Montoya who made the first serious charge and Michael could not match that. There wasa pause and Raikkonen sliced 1.5secs off the time. Michael beat that by a tenth and Alonso got within a few hundredths and the stage was set for the final runs with Michael leading the way and the others flat out in his wake.

There is no question that Schumacher would have been beaten but for his incident.

End of story.