Reflections from Monaco

By Roger Horton, England
Atlas F1 Senior Writer

The Ferraris of Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello totally dominated the Monaco Grand Prix. The race for the lead was effectively over when Mika Hakkinen parked his McLaren in the pits after completing just seventeen laps of the scheduled 78. Eddie Irvine brought much joy to the Jaguar team when he brought his car home in third position to score Jaguar's first ever Podium position in Formula One.

So easy had Schumacher's victory been, that the three-time champion seemed a little downbeat afterwards, missing perhaps that rush of adrenalin that comes from the spontaneous joy of winning a hard fought race. But Schumacher had done his job brilliantly; it was no fault of his that his main rivals had chosen to self-destruct around him at this, the most prestigious race on the calendar.

Most of the interest during the race, and certainly most of the controversy afterwards, centred around the efforts of David Coulthard to fight his way through the field, after once again his McLaren was forced to start at the rear of the grid, after yet another computer glitch that shut down his engine just prior to the start of the formation lap.

"It was nothing to do with David," said a rather grim looking and obviously uptight McLaren team boss Ron Dennis immediately after the race. "The system is complex and there was a set of parameters that manifested themselves at the start, and the system was not able to accommodate those parameters so it turned off the engine."

So no repeat, then, of Dennis's now infamous "brain fade" remark after Coulthard's similar experience in Spain, but if it was not his driver's fault, you are left wondering just what is going on at McLaren, and why it is that one of the most experienced and technologically advanced teams seemingly can't get their cars off the grid cleanly on a regular basis.

In answer to a question as to whether Coulthard was frustrated at starting at the rear of the grid again Dennis said: "I am sure he was, but in these situations you have to get your mind focused on the job and get the most out of it, obviously a fifth place is better than nothing." He then stoked the fires of controversy by continuing: "I am very disappointed with the Arrows team management. There is a guy contesting the World Championship and he [Enrique Bernoldi] is defending his position by cutting across him. I know it's a race, but for fifteenth position I think it is unacceptable. At Monaco, if you want to stop someone passing you, you can. When I spoke to Bernoldi he told me that his team instructed him to do it, that's the beginning and the end of it."

It wasn't known at the time, by the journalists speaking to Dennis as he entered the paddock from the pit-lane, that the McLaren team boss, together with Mercedes motorsport boss Norbert Haug, had already angrily confronted the hapless Enrique Bernoldi for holding up the recovering Coulthard for the first 45 laps of the race. Coulthard was unable to pass the Arrows driver despite the performance advantage offered by his McLaren, and Bernoldi's stubborn refusal to either yield his place or make a driving error, obviously enraged Dennis into launching a verbal attack on both Bernoldi and the Arrows team management.

Just what was said between Dennis and Bernoldi remains unclear. Dennis denies he made threats to end the young driver's career. "I have no influence over his career at all," Dennis said later. "It was quite a while after the race when I talked to him and I was cool, calm and collected and I was not angry." But the way Dennis reacted to some of the questions posed to him during his impromptu 'press conference' jammed against the side of a Monaco paddock fence, left some wondering just how cool and calm he had really been when talking to Bernoldi earlier.

In some ways it is easy to understand just why Ron Dennis was so angry with the situation in which he found himself at Monaco. His cars had dominated the warm-up on Sunday morning, finishing the session first and second, and Coulthard was on pole position. With each race it is becoming clearer that with the McLaren's ability to go longer than the Ferraris before a refuelling stop is required, the Woking based team is going to be at a distinct advantage at every one-stop track on the calendar. Monaco is one such circuit, so the odds were heavily in favour of a McLaren victory if Coulthard had held the advantage of pole position into the first corner.

It is quite possible that Hakkinen, third on the grid, would also have been able to make it past Schumacher's Ferrari during the pitstops for fuel. Dennis was obviously extremely confident going into the race, and yet he came away with almost nothing. For McLaren and Mercedes this was a bitter pill to swallow and hence their frustrations afterwards.

McLaren's reliability record this season has been frankly terrible for a team of their stature. In fourteen starts (two cars - seven races) they have suffered five DNFs - a ratio of more than one in three retirements per start. If you add into the equation Coulthard's two starting problems from which he has recovered to finish fifth each time, the overall 'failure' rate is fifty percent. For a team that normally thrive on regulation changes due to their enormous resources and experience, their failure to master the new software solutions required for launch control is a major embarrassment.

As always, opinions in the paddock were divided as to the rights and wrongs of Bernoldi's actions. Bernoldi himself seemed a little overwhelmed by all the media attention, but stated his case firmly and sincerely. "It was not easy to drive (like that) because I had a lot of pressure on me, so I couldn't afford to make any mistakes," stated the young Brazilian after the race. "He [Coulthard] was so close to me that if I hit the wall, maybe he would hit me as well. I was concentrating on my race. I was not deliberately holding him up, I was not braking on the inside of the corners. At Monaco it is difficult to pass, if you just drive normally no one can overtake you."

Indeed they can't. And that was the case made by those who suggested that for the sake of the millions following the race around the world it would have been better for Bernoldi to have made his point for a few laps, and then waved Coulthard through to continue his charge through the field. Monaco is already under some pressure as an increasingly anachronistic place to stage a Formula One race, and the more excitement the race can generate the better.

Obviously one man who didn't agree with Ron Dennis was Bernoldi's team boss, Tom Walkinshaw. The Scot called Dennis's comments "juvenile" and was highly critical that two such senior figures as Dennis and Haug should pick on a young driver in his first season of F1.

Away from all the controversy over Coulthard and Bernoldi, it was nice to see a team that has been under the cosh in recent times fare a little better at Monaco. There were some serious celebrations in the Jaguar camp after Eddie Irvine's third place finish. A new aero package, on which work only started just after the Brazilian race, raised the downforce level "more in one leap than I have ever experienced in all my years in F1" according to Irvine.

The team was so short of the new bits that they were only fitted on the cars for Saturday in case a trip into the barriers on Thursday left the team without enough left for qualifying. The results were dramatic, as Irvine moved up the grid from his 'usual' twelfth to sixth position, and from there he was able to launch his Podium bid on Sunday.

A very happy Eddie Irvine was therefore able to make his exit from the paddock on Sunday evening and relax on his boat, the 'Anaconda', which was moored just a stone's throw from the Jaguar motorhome. Irvine has been taking plenty of flak from some sections of the F1 media in recent months, and he enjoyed showing just what he can do given the right equipment.

At the height of all the paddock frenzy over the 'war of words' between Dennis and Walkinshaw, Jean Todt, team boss of Ferrari, whose cars had just finished in first and second places, strolled unmolested by reporters from the pitlane to his motor home. Obviously winning F1's most prestigious race was not the story of the moment, but losing it certainly was.

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Print Version

Volume 7, Issue 22
May 30th 2001

Atlas F1 Special

Interview with Stoddart
by Roger Horton

Gascoyne Q & A
by Roger Horton

Monaco GP Review

The Monaco GP Review
by Pablo Elizalde

Reflections from Monaco
by Roger Horton

by Richard Barnes

Motormouth Makes Good
by Karl Ludvigsen


The F1 Insider
by Mitch McCann

Season Strokes - the GP Cartoon
by Bruce Thomson

Qualifying Differentials
by Marcel Borsboom

The F1 FAQ
by Marcel Schot

The Weekly Grapevine
by the F1 Rumors Team

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