Atlas F1   Reflections on Silverstone

  by Roger Horton, England

When David Coulthard won this same race last year, he had to share the headlines with the news of Michael Schumacher's spectacular leg-breaking crash at Stowe corner. This year, most of the news headlines featured the totally farcical attempts by tens of thousands of British race fans to simply drive a few miles and view a Grand Prix at the 'Home of British Motor Racing.'

In many ways, those who made it through the chaos were just as worthy winners as the drivers who finished in the points. Many, having 'parked and walked' through rain, fog, and mud at least got to see the show. Thousands more either gave up or were turned away by police roadblocks, so badly affected were the car parking facilities after more than two weeks of almost continuous rain.

By the end of the weekend the power brokers in Formula One were back peddling faster than Mika Hakkinen on a pole lap, struggling to distance themselves from the original insane decision to schedule the race in April, some three months earlier than the traditional July date.

Coulthard, though, deserves all the kudos that this win brings to him. Last year's victory still saw him some 18 points shy of Hakkinen's total after eight rounds, an outsider at best for title honors. Now, with four rounds in the history books, he leads his teammate in the title chase and the future of his championship challenge is in his own hands.

This race, as always, was all about the start and the pit stops. Coulthard made the better job of both and won, having overtaken Hakkinen in the sprint down to the first corner. He grabbed the chance to overtake the struggling Rubens Barrichello when it was offered and made the pass stick, something of a novelty at Silverstone.

For championship leader Michael Schumacher, this race was all about damage limitation. Once a below par qualifying performance had relegated him to the third row of the starting grid, a piece of special 'Michael Schumacher - Ross Brawn magic' was needed for him to take his fourth straight win for the season, and it didn't happen.

Ironically it was his good initial getaway that led to his downfall. The opportunity to pass a slow starting Mika Hakkinen proved to be irresistible, even though it meant driving with two wheels on the grass.

Now a good part of the Schumacher genius for winning races comes from the fact that he seems to absorb everything that happens on the track over a Grand Prix weekend. Many times he has managed to save himself from embarrassment by regaining the track following an off track excursion by knowing just where the gravel trap ends and a retrieval road starts. Information gleaned and filed away from watching the progress (or lack of it) of other drivers as they struggled to regain the track following their own particular dramas.

So just how he missed seeing the four wheel drive vehicle that attempted to tow out David Coulthard's McLaren, itself become bogged during Fridays wet practice session, is something of a mystery. The message that the grass was just a green bog evidently passed him by, despite the fact that the story was in every headline. His error saw both Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve enter the first corner ahead of him as he struggled with traction on the grass, and more bad news was to come.

Later around the opening lap, a failed overtaking attempt on Villeneuve would see him drift off line and, from the resulting loss of momentum, vulnerable to an overtaking maneuver from his brother Ralf. The two brothers then entertained us with a side by side duel between Club and Bridge corners until Schumacher the elder, no doubt with precious championship points on his mind, decided to give his younger brother best. Deciding, as he later said, that he "did not want to crash into his brother."

Free of the restraint that the slower BAR-Honda imposed on his pace when Villeneuve pitted on lap 33, it was back to normal for Schumacher, and his fastest lap on 36 showed just what a danger he would have been to the McLarens had he found a way past at the start.

For Rubens Barrichello the race turned into a total disaster. His qualifying performance was his best yet for Ferrari and he looked to have the better of his teammate throughout the one-hour session. After a troubled race at Imola two weeks ago he bounced back superbly at Silverstone and looked well on course to score his first ever race win. With a twenty-second cushion, and with both McLarens between himself and his teammate, there was never any chance that Ferrari would intervene with team orders. But with two mechanical failures in four races, questions about Ferrari's priorities must be in his mind, although a quick glance in his old team's direction will quickly reassure him that his decision to join Ferrari was correct.

The Jenson Button media machine was much in evidence at Silverstone, and it has reached such a level of activity as to cause Williams technical director Patrick Head to muse about his young drivers' priorities. But once again Button performed well, as did the whole team, and Williams would appear to be on the way back as a really serious force in Grand Prix racing.

What sets Button apart, is the understated way he achieves his results on the racetrack. Imola apart, he has matched his more experienced teammate Ralf Schumacher's pace, and yet done it with so little drama. His smooth driving style belies his speed, and if he has any concerns over the approaching deadline for team boss Frank Williams to decide whether to ditch him in favour of CART champion Juan Montoya, he conceals it well.

The Ford owned Jaguar team continues to struggle, and even the team's press releases are no longer being written with the usual optimism that is the norm in F1. Even worse, the cars are under-performing against a background of a huge marketing programme extolling the virtues of the Jaguar brand and its racing heritage. The Jaguar Cat is limping badly and rumours of wholesale management changes have already started. Since its inception, F1 success has come to teams that are run by strong individuals who are ruthless when it comes to getting things done and fixing problems quickly.

The record of large corporations running successful racing teams is not good and sadly it would appear that Jaguar are providing us with yet another example. Both cars made it to the finish line at Silverstone, but they were amongst the walking wounded and the team has yet to open its points account for the season.

Four races into the 2000 season and the Schumacher-Ferrari bandwagon was slowed at Silverstone but not stopped. The McLaren team got the sixteen points it was looking for from this race, and for the second race in a row both cars made it to the finish line more or less without problems.

But if the McLaren team were able to leave the British circuit in a happy frame of mind, many others will have left distinctly unimpressed, that once again the long suffering fan was used as a pawn in someone else's power game. Already F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone has stated that he favours the race returning to its usual place on the calendar for next year, and that will be welcome news to all.

But just why it was moved in the first place is still the unanswered question.

Roger Horton© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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