SEPTEMBER 19, 2006

The truth will out?

Nine years after the World Championship showdown at Jerez in 1997, the then Sauber driver Norberto Fontana has decided to tell the story of what happened to him during that highly-charged weekend. In an interview with the Argentine magazine Ole, Fontana claims that three or four hours before the race Jean Todt visited the Sauber motorhome and told the Swiss team, which used Ferrari engines at the time, that the Saubers must block Jacques Villeneuve if they were in a position to do so in order to help Michael Schumacher win the World Championship.

Fontana said that he blocked Villeneuve for only three or four corners but that it cost the French-Canadian around three seconds. In the end Villeneuve challenged Schumacher for the lead and the two cars collided. Schumacher went off into a gravel trap and was unable to rejoin. Villeneuve won the World Championship and Michael Schumacher was later punished for deliberately driving Villeneuve off the track.

Fontana said that the action had hurt his career but that Todt and Schumacher never thanked him for what he had done.

While this is all ancient history now, there is a certain irony in that after the same race there were claims that Williams and McLaren colluded to rig the result of the race. That claim was rejected by the FIA World Council although it was never clear why the allegations ever got as far as the World Council.