Atlas F1

Reflections On Montreal

by Roger Horton, England

Now That's Entertainment!

In five or six races' time, when the season enters its mathematical stage, Michael Schumacher will no doubt remember the 30th lap of the Canadian Grand Prix and his Ferrari's appointment with the wall.

It was almost a mirror image of the mistake that cost Mika Hakkinen a likely win at San Marino, except that Hakkinen was on a two-stop strategy and pushing for track position. Schumacher was in a comfortable lead and only pushing to extend it. A very human mistake, but it is not the first time he has thrown away a race whilst in the lead.

Schumacher's accident changed the leader, but not the essential shape of the race. Up until that point the leaders were well spread out and the usual pit-stop roulette loomed as the only opportunity to shuffle the pack.

Instead it was the home favourite Jacques Villeneuve who provided the stimulus to turn this race into something to remember. When he front-ended his car against the same wall that had claimed Schumacher, the safety car made its third appearance of the afternoon and triggered the re-start that changed the race.

The David Coulthard / Eddie Irvine coming together was pretty much a racing accident. Given the verbal jousting between these two drivers prior to the race it seemed pretty much inevitable that should they get wheel to wheel at any point it was going to be as much a test of hormones as driving skill.

In the end it was Coulthard that came off worst and not for the first time after contact with a Ferrari. Coulthard was effectively out of the running, Irvine resumed in eighth position and started to charge.

Now for the past few weeks many people involved in Formula One have been reaching a consensus of sorts, that something needs to be done to improve the show that Formula One delivers to its followers. Most of these discussions have centred on the needs to make the job of a faster car overtaking a slower one easier. Even Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone has joined the chorus of voices questioning the need for grooved tyres and opined the need for a re-think.

Eddie Irvine's wonderful charge from eighth to third (aided from fourth to third by Heinz-Harald Frentzen's late accident) was magical to watch. The way he muscled his way past the Sauber of Pedro Diniz, the Williams of Ralf Schumacher and especially the Stewart of Johnny Herbert, was reminiscent of the driving of his more illustrious teammate. There can be no higher praise.

So overtaking, what's the problem?

Well nothing really, provided that all the tracks are changed so that instead of the traditional fast corner leading onto a long straight, leading to a slow bend (the original "Zandvoort" solution.) We get a slow corner first, so that the following cars' grip is not compromised by the disturbed air of the car in front. Then with the help of a more powerful engine, maybe a little less wing angle, and the slipstream that these narrower cars still provide, the overtaking car can at least get alongside. Just about all the passing moves made in Canada were on the part of the track from the slow pits hairpin to the chicane just past the pit-lane entrance.

The rest of the passing manoeuvre is down to what it has always been - a combination of luck, skill and the guts of a driver on a charge.

The role of the safety car in all this should also not be forgotten. Formula One history was made when the cars completed the last lap behind it after it made its fourth appearance of the afternoon. Most Formula One purist deride the use of the "pace" car in Champ car road races as little more than a way of bunching up the field and artificially producing excitement.

Canada showed that it works in Formula One too and one wonders just what lessons the powers that be will have learnt from this. In the aftermath of the Imola tragedies, where the possibility that the use of the safety car played a part in Ayrton Senna's death, its use has been restricted. It surely can't be all coincidence that it was used four times in North America, its traditional home. If the track marshals at Monaco, the circuit with the least amount of run off areas on a track practically completely surrounded by Armco barriers, can extract cars fast enough under local yellows to hardly ever require the use of the Safety car, one can only wonder just why their Canadian cousins cannot.

The news that the Ford Motor Company has made its somewhat expected purchase of the Stewart team also made the headlines this race weekend. It was perhaps fitting that the Ford Hierarchy were both entertained by an interesting race and saw one of their cars finish in the points. The cost to Ford of this purchase was variously reported but a figure of around US$100 million is thought to be close to the mark.

The decision by Ford, following closely the return of Honda - albeit in the initial role of engine supplier only - is on the face of it a ringing endorsement of the value to major corporations of Formula One. Surely supporting the case made so forcefully by FIA President Max Mosley that just about everything is rosy in the Formula One garden.

This begs a question that is going to be asked more frequently in the current manufacturer influenced climate: is the future of Grand Prix racing purely as a technical exercise, a challenge for the best and brightest engineers drafted into their client teams? Or is it supposed to be entertainment for the masses, where drivers can go for gaps and are rewarded for their skill and artistry with race wins and Championships?

Surely it is not beyond the collective imaginations of the FIA and Formula One's commercial Czar Bernie Ecclestone to make it both. Tickets for a new golden age anyone?

Roger Horton© 1999 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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