United States GP 2002
SEPTEMBER 29, 2002
United States GP, 2002
Prancing foot lands in mouth...
IT is every German working class boy's dream: to be in the most famous racing car in the world, at the most famous race track in the world, winning a race in front of tens of thousands of cheering race fans, all of whom are planning to rush down to the local Ferrari dealership on Monday morning and place an order for a gleaming red product from the home of the Prancing Horse. You are skipping through flowery fields with everyone applauding... You are fast but you have gone beyond that. You want to be respected as well. You want to be more than just a multiple World Champion. You want to be Mother Teresa of Calcutta in Nomex overalls. The orchestra is playing a rousing tune and then someone nudges the record player. There is an unpleasant scratching noise and you wake up and you find that you have really made a mess of things...
The look on Michael Schumacher's face at the end of the post-race press conference at Indianapolis said it all. The joy we had seen on the podium was gone. The eyes were not smiling. The face seemed suddenly taut as the realization sank in that what was meant to be a magnanimous gesture had turned into a nightmare. Michael had realized that the dreadful poltergeist that was released earlier this year when Ferrari used team orders in Austria was out of the bottle again. It was time to call in the Ghostbusters...
It was an unfortunate end to what would have been a pretty good afternoon. The two Ferraris were dominant again. No-one was going to accuse Formula 1 of being as exciting as USAC Midget racing but the fans - around 150,000 of them - would go home having seen the best of the best. The Top Guns of Formula 1. And on this occasion they had been racing all afternoon. The Ferrari team had made it clear before the event that the two drivers would be allowed to fight. And fight they did. The problem was that Rubens Barrichello is just not quite as fast as Michael Schumacher. And so he was stuck behind him for most of the afternoon.
At the final corner Michael donned his Mother Teresa gear and went out wide . Rubens went down the inside. It was a formation finish. Or was it? Was Michael letting Rubens through? Rubens did not know. He was not sure what to do. The two cars crossed the line together. Not even the drivers were able to say who had won. But the Formula 1 timing transponders can reveal the tiniest of secrets and when the names flicked up on the screen, you could almost hear the groan. Barrichello was ahead of M Schumacher. Down at the back of the Media Center you could hear the bad guys kick-starting their Conspiracy Theories. This was bad for Formula 1. This was a scandal. This was the worst thing to happen in the history of the sport. This would sell newspapers... This is the way of the media in the modern age. And Michael Schumacher should be bright enough to know that by now.
When he started to explain himself he said that he had been trying for a dead heat. Then he changed his story. It suddenly became a payback for what Rubens did in Austria. If he had been in an police investigation he would have been in the slammer because the story was not consistent.
But try as they might the Banshees of the Media Center could not turn this one into "Austria II - the payback". This time there was no banana-munching giant on the pitwall being told what to do by a funny little Frenchman the size of Napoleon. There was no interference from the pitwall. Michael Schumacher had done it all himself.
The best thing for Michael to have done would have been to have stopped talking about being honest and fair (an odd concept in the circumstances) and been honest. It looked like he was trying to stage a formation finish and had just screwed it up. His pride probably did not allow for that. And so it looked like a staged finish and that meant that the attack dogs in the media were able to bark that the public had been cheated. It was all a great shame because Formula 1 had done as good a job as possible in the current circumstances for the F1 fans of America.
The Ferraris are at the moment so fast that no-one can challenge them, even if the Bridgestone tires had to go for two stops while the Michelins could manage only one. The Ferrari cause was aided by the fact that David Coulthard - who ran third all afternoon - was worried that his engine might blow up. Kimi Raikkonen's did. They were also helped by the fact that the BMW Williams team made a spectacular mess of its challenge. The look of absolute horror on the face of Williams's technical director Patrick Head said it all. He was literally pulling his hair out as he watched his two cars pirouetting at the end of the main straight at the start of lap 2. Ralf Schumacher had spun and punted into Montoya. Both kept going but their races were both ruined. Ralf spent the rest of the afternoon wondering how to explain himself and hoping that somewhere between parc ferme and the Williams pit he might be able to find a tin helmet to protect him from the gunfire that Head would be aiming in his direction.
Montoya did what he could for the rest of the afternoon but there was further disaster ahead when in the mid-race he misheard a radio call and came in early. The team handled it well but the strategy was ruined. The best he could have hoped for was third but he had to settle for fourth place.
The misadventures of Ralf and Kimi Raikkonen (who was, literally, firing on only nine cylinders) allowed others to pick up points and Jarno Trulli duly droned around to pick up fifth place for Renault. The team had planned for a light fuel-load at the start and a short fast first stint. Jarno made up some places at the start, jumping ahead of Jacques Villeneuve and Raikkonen but that was it. Before too long he headed for the pits and took on a tanker-load of fuel to get him home. The Michelins were strong enough to do it and the car was reliable. But it was hardly enthralling. Jenson Button might have done as well but there was a bit more traffic at the wrong moment and Button's interest in the Renault team seems to have peaked some time ago. He was going round and round in circles and waiting for the season to end so that he can go off and be excited at BAR. He finished eighth.
The final point went to Jacques Villeneuve who drove a typically Villeneuve kind of race. He had gone for an aggressive two-stop (he had no real choice because of the tires) but a less than perfect start made the task a little more difficult than planned. The Williams disaster and Raikkonen's blow-up helped him out and the reward was sixth place. Olivier Panis had planned to do the same but his automatic starting system malfunctioned and so he ended the first lap down at the back of the field and from there he had no chance. He ended the day 12th.
The Jordan team, having little else to do, decided that they would risk trying to make the Bridgestones go for one stop. This was an interesting idea but it did not work. Both drivers had awful oversteer as a result and so ended up seventh and 11th. It was a pretty disappointing day.
The faces at Sauber were also longer than a drag strip and once again tires were to blame. Heidfeld started 10th and finished ninth which was not good given the fact that Ralf Schumacher had put himself out of contention and Raikkonen had blown up. Heinz-Harald Frentzen found out that changes he had made to the car made it rather slow and so he started 11th and finished 13th.
After the euphoria of Monza, Jaguar Racing was back where one expects it to be. Eddie Irvine's strategy was a long first stint and a short blast at the end. A bad start did not help his cause but as people ahead pitted Eddie Irvine rose to 10th place but so many cars were still running that his pitstop tumbled him back to 14th and although the two-stoppers cleared out of the way he was still only 10th at the finish.
Pedro de la Rosa also tried a similar trick but he made a bad start and so found himself dicing with Alex Yoong's Minardi for the first part of the race. He did eventually overtake (after 21 laps) but any further thoughts of a charge through the field were thwarted when the transmission of the Jag-wah (as they say over here) seized up. The rear end of the car caught fire and there followed an amusing piece of slapstick comedy as the marshals got excited and squirted the car with lots of extinguisher. Pedro was ushered quickly aside and told to jump over the barrier. He did so and promptly fell six feet into a drainage culvert, which they had forgotten to mention to him.
"They did not tell me there was a river next to the barrier," he complained later. "Unbelievable."
If one was being very nice one might say that Toyota's performance was "solid" but 14th and 15th for Mika Salo and Allan McNish was hardly impressive, particularly as both men were on different strategies. Dull is probably a better word.
Minardi actually did quite a good job with Mark Webber running as high as 14th, which was particularly interesting as he was running with a very heavy fuel load, trying to go one-stop. Sadly the powersteering failed and so we will never know what he might have achieved. It would probably have been eighth or ninth. Alex Yoong did OK but his Asiatech engine blew up in a fairly spectacular fashion on lap 47.
One can only hope that after Michael had finished talking to the media, trying to undo the harm he had done on the last lap, he went back to the Ferrari pit and was hit in the head by Jean Todt and told not to try thinking for himself in the future...