European GP 2002
JUNE 23, 2002
European GP, 2002
Black and white - and red all over
It is a fact of modern sport that one can be fascinated by motor racing even if there is no racing going on. The closing laps of the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring were as enthralling as any we seen for a while and yet the fascination was not about the racing but rather because no-one knew what Ferrari was going to do. The team had whipped the opposition to such an extent that it was almost embarrassing. And then Michael Schumacher made a rare mistake (some say he was changing the cassette) and spun off. Naturally he did not hit anything and was soon on the road again and chipping away at Rubens Barrichello's lead. Suddenly we were back in the same scenario as Austria but this time there were fewer choices for the Ferrari bosses. Austria was a public relations disaster for Ferrari and so to repeat the performance would have been rather unintelligent. But to let Barrichello win the race would be to undermine the Ferrari argument that the victory in Austria had to go to Michael because one always needs to be sure that nothing is left to chance. It was the ultimate double-edged sword. Ferrari was going to lose either way. Jean Todt chose the lesser of two evils and Barrichello was told to win. People seemed to be happy. It was as obvious as the difference between black and white that there had been team orders - but this time no-one much was complaining.
The team justified the move saying that things have moved on since Austria and there is no need for the team to worry too much about the World Championship. Well, boys, to use your own argument after Austria, what happens if Michael breaks his leg again? Or, dare we suggest it, what happens if FIA World Motor Sport Council were to decide to wipe out 30 or even 40 of Michael's points because of the way he brought the sport into disrepute in Austria...
Such is modern sport. We are now more fascinated by these sort of issues than we are about four-wheel drifts and smoking tires. It is more of a soap opera than a sport but perhaps it has to be that way because at the moment Ferrari's opposition is so poor that there is no effective challenge. Hopefully that will not last long. In F1 it rarely does.
But, for the summer of 2002, we might be subjected to a few more Ferrari massacres. In a way this is good because humiliation is a great motivator. McLaren and Williams hate being beaten and they are not just being beaten, they are being whipped.
By the end of the first lap at the Nurburgring it was clear that Ferrari's rivals were wasting their time. The two Williams-BMWs made good starts and were 1-2 as the field came out of the first corner. In most F1 races that would have been the end of it but before the end of the lap Barrichello had gone past both Montoya and Ralf Schumacher and Michael had also dealt with Montoya. By the end of third lap he was ahead of his brother and then he was off after Barrichello. He even had time for a spin and still managed to haul himself back up to the front again so that in the final laps he was right with Rubens. And there he sat the car cruising around, not darting about as it does when Michael is on the move and looking for victims. If modern F1 cars had window ledges, Michael's arm would have been on it.
It would bee nice to be able to say that the Ferraris were helped when Montoya and Coulthard collided at the first corner on lap 28 but it was really not that important. The McLarens were quicker but they were not quick enough to do anything about Ferrari. But they had Williams pegged. Montoya reckoned he was to blame for the shunt but it looked rather more like a racing incident as the two men tried to go through the corner together. Monty just snagged the curb with his right rear and the Williams spun and took the McLaren off. Both were out. That left Ralf chugging along in third but the pace of Raikkonen and a different strategy meant that the Finn was soon ahead and that was how they ended the race. The Renault strategy had been based on the concept of Button and Trulli being able to get ahead of the McLarens at the start but it did not happen. Trulli spoiled his own race with an early off which left him out of the hunt.
Felipe Massa took the last point for Sauber and with Heidfeld seventh it was not a bad showing from Sauber. Heidfeld reckoned that his race was spoiled at the start while Massa was delighted to have jumped up from 11th on the grid to ninth at the end of the first lap.
BAR got both cars home but Panis's ninth place and Villeneuve's 12th were not much to get excited about but rather better than the other Honda team, Jordan, which had its two drivers collide at the first corner. On this occasion the fault lay with Giancarlo Fisichella. Whatever the case the race was ruined and the look on Eddie Jordan's face said it all.
Arrows got two cars home but 10th and 14th was hardly sensational. Bernoldi took 10th on the last lap by diving past Pedro de la Rosa's Jaguar but Frentzen's race which was rather better than Bernoldi's was ruined when the team had another refuelling machine failure: the third in three races. It might be an idea if the team threw the existing machines in a lake and started with new ones...
De la Rosa got home in 11th while Irvine went out with an hydraulic failure. Toyota's promising qualifying was not translated to anything interesting in the race as McNish ended up 14th and Salo went out with a gearbox trouble. Minardi too got just one car home with Webber 15th. He made a good start but then slipped back as he battled to keep his car on the road. Alex Yoong went out with an hydraulic problem.
The action now moves to Paris where Ferrari goes up before the World Motor Sport Council to explain the issues raised by the Austrian GP. On Sunday night Michael Schumacher led the World Championship by 46 points. It might have been 50. But who knows what it will be by Wednesday evening...
It was not a classic race but was interesting as often they are when one is able to keep track of it all. On TV it might have been rather soporific...