Sibling Rivalry

Atlas F1

Sibling Rivalry

The Brambillas, Fabis, Fittipaldis, the Rodriguez brothers, the Brabhams, Scheckters and Villeneuves; the names of the racing brothers that have brushed Grand Prix racing are usually tainted by the success of one - but perhaps not the other. Some brothers have certainly made more of an impact on Grand Prix racing than others: the Brabhams, for instance, scarcely rate a mention in Grand Prix's reference bible, the Marlboro Grand Prix Guide. Only the Fittipaldis and Rodriguez brothers are mentioned fully.

In terms of being competitive, the Mexican Rodriguez brothers, in spite of Ricardo's brief five race career, were perhaps the most closely matched. Pedro won two of his 55 Grands Prix; Ricardo finished in the top six of two of his five. However, they never actually raced against one another in Formula One.

Perhaps the thought of racing wheel to wheel at 300 kph with a blood relative is not one's ideal way of family bonding. But it's not something that would have worried the fiery Rodriguez brothers, and it's not something that worries the Schumacher brothers, who have certainly taken over the mantle of being the most competitive brothers to have raced in Formula One.

Since Ralf made his debut at the start of the 1997 season, the pair have been a regular feature on the grids. Whereas the Brabham brothers often didn't qualify, that is no longer the case in Formula One. At every Grand Prix since then, Michael and Ralf have lined up on the grid together. They're about to tackle their 33rd Grand Prix together. In two more races, they will equal the Fittipaldis' record of races in which they both participated.

The Schumi Bros. on a Parade LapAnd it isn't as if Michael is constantly at the front of the grid and Ralf is always at the back. They're both sufficiently competitive for them to be in a position to crash together - and to be on the rostrum together. They were squeezed into a collision at the Nurburgring just one year ago - and they were both on the rostrum - Michael first, Ralf third - at the Italian Grand Prix last month.

It's an intriguing relationship and not one that has always been as it is now. After all, they were born six years apart. When Michael made his Grand Prix debut in 1991, he was 22 years old and his brother was just 16. The generation gap was even greater when Michael was say 18, and his brother was 12. Not surprisingly, their interests were different, they had different priorities. One was having to earn a living and was successful, the other was effectively still a child.

Since then, however, the brothers have become closer and closer, helped, of course, by the fact that they do the same job. But that also has its disadvantages. After all, Grand Prix racing is their work. So their moments together have to be chosen well. They live in different countries (Michael in Switzerland, Ralf in Monaco), so they travel to and from the circuits separately, although they may well share a helicopter from a circuit to the airport.

They work for different teams, so they stay in different hotels. Having said that, they will often leave the track together on Friday or Saturday evenings, or have a post-practice chat in the Ferrari motorhome. (Ralf always goes to Michael, rarely the other way around).

But then they may be testing together for three days at a circuit and never even see one another. Testing is actually longer and harder work than at a race meeting, so even though there is less stress and less profile, the hours are actually longer. It always noticeable, however, that during the drivers' parade on Sunday mornings, when the drivers do a lap around the track for the benefit of the spectators, that the Schumacher brothers spend most of the lap chatting. There is obviously much to catch up on.

Nowadays, however, that chat is unlikely to be advice. Sure, Ralf might bring up a subject to get Michael's views, but he's less likely to ask advice. Michael is much less protective of his young brother now than he used to be. Ralf is his own man in his brother's eyes. "He's another competitor, another racing driver in the field," Michael will emphasise. But it helps that they share the same manager, Willi Weber, who has steered both their careers.

As such, Ralf is another competitor who has to be beaten - and Michael is the same as far as Ralf is concerned. We've often seen Michael catching Ralf after being delayed by an incident perhaps. The Ferrari has remained behind the Jordan for a lap maybe, Ralf careful not to block his brother's progress, Michael careful not to force his way through and perhaps jeopardise both their chances. "They have to race one another," says Weber, "but perhaps they're a little more cautious with one another than they would be with another driver."

The friendship, then, exists off track, not on track. Asked how he could help his older brother to win his third World title during the final races of this year's World Championship, Ralf said "he's won the world championship twice without having me in Formula One, and he will manage it a third time. As I have said many times, I drive for Jordan and I will try to get the best results for my team.

"One thing is for sure, and that is that I would never try to stop him getting a good result. Last year Jacques Villeneuve said something very unfair about Michael having three drivers on his team -- which suggested that I was on his side as well as Eddie Irvine. That was not true and it is still not true. I will try my best to keep him behind me, but he is still my brother and there is a bit of a difference there."

Of course, next year the rivalry becomes a little more intense, when Ralf drives for Williams, potentially a World Championship-winning team and a rival of Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro for whom Michael drives. So far the Schumacher brothers' rivalry exists only on the family kart track(where Ralf holds the lap record, incidentally). That could become a little more fraught in 1999.

Atlas F1 1998 Atlas Formula One Journal.
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