Columns - Big Al

Schadenfreude is alive and well and living in the F1 pit lane


I suppose it's a fact of life that rather too many people in the F1 pit lane get a kick out of other people's misfortunes. When you add that to the other key F1 affliction, namely an inability to remember anything that took place earlier than yesterday lunchtime, then you can understand why misfortunes in pre-season testing are almost doubly painful as anything one might experience in the helter-skelter of the season's fortnightly racing.

Specifically, this was a bad week in Spain for both Jaguar and British American Racing. At Valencia, Eddie Irvine slammed off the circuit after a jammed throttle sent his Jaguar R2 into the trackside tire barrier. But just when rivals were chortling inwardly that this untoward incident would torpedo Jaguar's F1 build program, the news came through that the car had in fact survived the 130mph shunt with amazingly little damage, just a tweaked steering rack which was not replaceable on site.

Meanwhile, over at Jerez Jacques Villeneuve shunted the new BAR-Honda 03 when what was euphemistically described as a "suspected problem with the suspension culminated in the car leaving the circuit and hitting a barrier." This official description was couched in the style of wartime BBC newsreader Alvar Lidell putting a brave face on a German bomber raid over London's Docklands.

In reality, suspension problems have been an unfortunately recurring theme for BAR. Last year the hapless Ricardo Zonta most notable experienced a "suspected problem with the suspension" culminating in his very nearly securing a third row seat in the Stowe grandstand ten days early for the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Later there was also what F1 teams increasingly tend to describe as "issues" with the suspension during a Monza test. In straightforward English, Zonta nearly clouted the barrier for a second time.

Although my old mate Ron Dennis recently expressed the view that, on balance, he felt that BAR would get the upper hand over Jordan in the battle for Honda-powered domination this season, Villeneuve's suspension breakage at Jerez is a particularly worrying episode.

When Jacques re-signed for BAR last season, he made it abundantly clear that he could walk away from the contract if the situation proved less-than-satisfactory. Put bluntly, the Canadian ace simply can't continue frittering away the best years of his career with Craig Pollock's organization - unless Malcolm Oastler and his design team have at the very least sustained the position which the team reached last season, or preferably improved upon it.

Yet Pollock is a shrewd operator. He has worked hard to understand the political intricacies of the F1 business and has successfully presided over BAR's transformation from paddock laughing stock to credible contender. With that in mind, it would be a shame if Villeneuve couldn't wring the pay-off out of the BAR-Honda in his third year with the team.

For the moment, BAR needs to keep its nerve and ignore any outside pressures. Starting with not reading any columns like this.