Road Blocks to Success

Road Blocks to Success
by Eric Gustafson

Italy has created many great things. The list is long, but I suppose you would have to throw in the greatest artist of our millennium: Michelangelo, the perfection of the art of coffee making and some of the most desirable cars ever produced.

Unfortunately, Italy also appears to have produced some of the most inept race officials this side of an impromptu high-school-parking-lot grand prix. Those tires stacks in the chicanes were the worst idea Formula One has seen for a long time. Not only were they redundant given the increased curb heights and sand traps--Formula One drivers don't like to play in sandboxes, they posed a deadly threat to the drivers. Luckily, no one was injured. (Unless, that is, you include Damon Hill's pride which was already in a wounded state.)

Sure you could argue that the drivers knew the risk involved in cutting it too close to these tires and had the ability to avoid them, but what were the Monza race officials trying to create, an obstacle course? I mean did they see these barriers as their contribution to the great crusade afoot of slowing down Formula One cars. One can only guess what other great ideas they had up their sleeves: ball-bearings, tacks, trap doors?

I suppose you could chalk this whole mess up to Italy's politically challenged gene pool--how many governments have they had since WWII? Let's face it, this country simply isn't known for churning out great officials. However, given Eccelstone's governing power, or that of the constructors, it is almost impossible to understand how the Monza officials got away with what they did.

Governing bodies aside, it was ultimately the drivers who could best assess the stupidity and potential danger posed by these tires. Therefore, they must also share some of the blame for allowing the race proceed as it did. Under such leaders as Jackie Stewart and Niki Laudi, drivers have historically been able to unify and accomplish a lot in the name of safety. After Ayrton Senna's death, there appeared to be renewed unity amongst the ranks concerning this issue. If anything, Monza represented a serious lull on this front. Ironically, World Champion-to-be Damon Hill appeared rather unconcerned by the tire barriers before the race. Boy, isn't funny how a little drive through the countryside can help clear your thoughts?

Come to think of it, tires have been a peculiar stumbling block (no pun intended) in Formula One lately. Between Tyrell's idea of running four front tires on their cars at Monza (an idea that was thoroughly rebuked by Goodyear), the proposition of grooved tires for the '97 season, the impending tire war posed by the forces at Bridgestone and this whole Monza chicane fiasco, it seems that F1 has gone plain goofy when it comes to rubber. This situation gives new meaning to the term "silly season," but then I suppose Frank Williams (and Heinz-Harald Frentzen) already did that.

Enough ranting. I couldn't end this column without remarking on Michael Schumacher's incredible win, but I'll leave that up to the humble words of Jean Alesi:"Today I'm really happy and really pleased for Ferrari's win."

Eric Gustafson
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