ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 31 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   Reflections on Hockenheim

  by Roger Horton, England

There are some races that just make you say, Wow. A race so full of incidents and drama that it requires a second viewing to fully understand just how the winner won, and the loser lost.

The 2000 German Grand Prix was such a race, and it will always be remembered for the wonderful sight of Rubens Barrichello wiping away tears of joy with his country's flag, as the Brazilian national anthem rang out. The anthem had followed the many victories of Barrichello's great friend and mentor Ayrton Senna, but had not been heard on the podium since the Australian Grand Prix of 1993 - Senna's last win.

This was no gifted victory that Barrichello 'lucked' into, but a hard fought win that was due as much to his pace early in the race as to his decision to stay out on 'dry' tyres as the rain began falling in the stadium area of the track, late in the race. His early pace was truly awesome, his many overtaking moves clinical and full of authority. It would have been so easy to lock a brake, make car-to-car contact, or take a touch too much kerb through one of Hockenheim's many chicanes and throw it all away.

Seventeenth position off the grid to third in fifteen laps says it all, especially in an era that sometimes rejoices in just one overtaking move in an entire race.

Michael Schumacher's early departure from the race undoubtedly aided Barrichello's cause, when the crucial decision as to whether to stop for 'wets' late in the race was needed to be made. With all Ferrari's attentions focused solely on him, and the team ready to change his tyres whenever he made the call, Barrichello was allowed to be master of the situation and rose to the challenge. There would be no repeat of the scene at the European Grand Prix, where, in a strikingly similar situation, the pits were effectively closed to him whilst Schumacher pondered his switch from 'dry' to 'wet' tyres.

Earlier, Barrichello had again benefited from being the sole Ferrari in the race, when all the teams decided to pit during the sudden safety car period, brought about by the spectator wondering onto the track. As McLaren dithered, trying to solve the impossible problem of servicing two cars at the same time, Barrichello received just what he needed - a swift stop that saw him moving into third position and, crucially, past David Coulthard's McLaren.

Oh the joy of being Number One driver at Ferrari for the day!

However, even as Barrichello was enjoying the euphoria that comes with victory, his feet were still firmly on the ground. When quizzed about his championship chances, now that the points' gap between himself and his team leader Schumacher had been reduced to only ten points, he answered: "Hey look, let's talk about this win! It's been such a long time. It's good to work with Ferrari, too: everyone's been talking about number 1 and number 2 drivers, but that doesn't matter. They give me the car and the car worked perfectly. Yes, I was lucky today, because of the incident on the first lap and the way my strategy worked out so well. Let's have a party tonight and enjoy a good time."

For Ferrari, Michael Schumacher's drivers' title remains the goal and nothing that happened at Hockenheim will have changed that.

Whilst one Brazilian was experiencing the joy of victory, another was no doubt contemplating his rather bleak future in Formula One. It can't be easy being Ricardo Zonta at the moment, and making contact with his teammate Jacques Villeneuve at Hockenheim will not have helped his future one little bit.

Villeneuve, who has just been re-signed by the BAR team on a three-year deal, made some scathing comments about his teammate, after the two made contact during the race. "There was an incident with my teammate and I have to say that I don't have much respect for him as a result," was one of the more printable quotes from the French Canadian, after the incident.

Zonta has yet to be confirmed by the team for next year and has only scored a single championship point for a sixth place finish in Australia, but despite having been heavily criticised for his part in nudging Schumacher into retirement in Austria, he outqualified his highly rated teammate and did nothing at the start that all drivers have not done at one time or another.

At Hockenheim, he again looked to be able to match his teammate for pace, indeed he only made the move to pass Villeneuve because the '97 World Champion was so much slower through the wet stadium section than himself. One can only presume that Villeneuve himself has entirely forgotten his own ill-judged overtaking manoeuvre in Canada, where he missed his braking point by some 30 meters and used the Williams of Ralf Schumacher to halt his progress.

Obviously a young driver under pressure to keep his place on the grid is bound to make mistakes, and Zonta has not exactly been blessed with outstanding equipment from BAR in which to showcase his talent. But, given the influence that Villeneuve wields in the team, it would seem that his days at BAR are now numbered.

Given all the hot air being generated about drivers 'chopping' or 'swerving' at the start, it was perhaps inevitable that we would once again see some contact when the race started. David Coulthard fully exercised his FIA-approved move in front of Schumacher the moment he sensed that his start was less than brilliant. Schumacher had no complaints about Coulthard's move, but was critical of Giancarlo Fisichella, into whose path the German swerved as he moved to the left-hand side of the track to take his line for the opening right-hand bend.

This was a classic case of two drivers urgently requiring the same piece of road at precisely the same moment, and so it was pretty much a racing accident. Not surprisingly, given the damage that yet another DNF has done to his championship challenge, Schumacher did not see it that way, but the points are gone and nothing will bring them back.

Perhaps Coulthard has after all achieved his purpose in raising this issue after the French Grand Prix. It is now accepted that the pole sitter can take pretty much any line he needs off the grid, should his initial start be anything less than perfect, even if it means forcing the challenging driver to lift off to avoid contact. Now, at least, the driver alongside the pole man knows exactly what to expect, but one day it will lead to a major accident and the FIA may regret the day it allowed yet another piece of driver etiquette from the past to get dumped.

As the championship heads towards its climax, the fortunes of Ferrari and McLaren are heading in decidedly different directions. Michael Schumacher has seen his championship points lead slashed by 22 points in the last three races, having failed to add to his tally since Canada. Meanwhile, McLaren have brought both their cars home in the points for the last nine races - Brazil being the last event the team suffered a retirement, when Hakkinen's engine failed and Coulthard was disqualified.

The championship, though, is the big picture; this race was all about Rubens Barrichello and his coming of age. The next one, however, will resume business as usual.

Roger Horton© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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