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VOL.25 :: NO.52 :: Dec. 28, 2002 - Jan. 03, 2003

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F-1 RACING

It was Ferrari all the way

SANJAY RAJAN

SO many factors go into the making of a winner in motor sport. And nothing exhibits this better than Formula One.

REUTERS

Ferrari's defending world champion, Michael Schumacher of Germany, was unstoppable in Formula One Grand Prix events during the year.

The year that went by saw the Scuderia paint the history books a Ferrari red with a series of record-breaking efforts. But the predictability of the Reds victories, Michael Schumacher's in particular, has plummeted the 2002 season as the most boring in F-1 history. Ferrari made winning races inconsequential, its management ensured that there was no competition within the team, while the superior performance of the cars eliminated any competition from outside. So much so that it led to rule changes for the coming season.By winning the constructors' championship for the fourth successive year and helping Schumacher to his third straight drivers' honours, Scuderia Ferrari has carried domination to a different level.

History points it to be a cycle, McLaren was unbeatable in 1988 (15 wins in 16 races) and Williams held 15 poles in 16 races in 1992. Maybe Scuderia's domination will not last forever, it obviously cannot, but it has indeed set very high standards, achieving that perfect combination of man and machine.

So, what is it that has made Ferrari tick? It's a combination of factors, really. A great deal of hard work undoubtedly, and specialised skills, especially of five people. Paolo Martinelli, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn, Schumacher, then a two-time World champion, and Rory Byrne moved to Ferrari one after the other starting 1994, came together in the year 1998, struck the right combination by 2000 and helped the team dominate ever since.

Ferrari's engine is not the fastest, Williams' BMW is more powerful, but the former wins on its overall performance, in terms of speed, efficiency, reliability and response. And the man behind this is Martinelli, an Italian who studied Mechanical Engineering at Bologna University and achieved his life-long ambition of working for Ferrari when he joined its F-1 engine design team in 1994.

A little earlier, Frenchman Todt took over as team principal and used his skills as a motivator and leader, introducing unity and family values to tide over the internal squabbles that had been eating into the side. Todt had earlier been a successful rally co-driver and a manager to the Peugeot Talbot team.

REUTERS

Michael Schumacher (left) and Ferrari sporting director Jean Todt pose at the traditional annual gala of the International Automobile Federation at Monaco. The posters in the background show pictures of Schumacher and five-time Formula One world champion Juan Manuel Fangio of Argentina.

Next to board the Ferrari ship, though not until 1996, were technical director Ross Brawn and Schumacher. Brawn possessed tremendous experience in designing and construction of F-1 cars, had spent eight years with Williams, followed it with a stint with Arrows, then helped design sports cars for Tom Walkinshaw Racing, before tasting considerable success with Benetton in the mid-90s where, supervising the car development, he helped Schumacher win his maiden back-to-back titles in '94 and '95 while Benetton won the constructors' crown in '95.

Byrne, who designed the car that provided Schumacher his championships at Benetton, completed the circle when he joined Scuderia in 1997. It all began coming together in 1999 when Ferrari won the constructors' title but missed the drivers' crown by a whisker with Eddie Irvine keeping Hakkinen at bay. Schumacher missed the second half of that season after breaking his leg at Silverstone. But the team's dominance began the following year, with Rubens Barrichello roped in as Schumacher's second driver.

In 2000, Schumacher won Ferrari's first driver's crown in 21 years and went on to convert it into a hat-trick, with Barrichello providing the right balance: quick enough to get the points while sticking to team orders.

As a driver, Schumacher is undoubtedly the best of his generation. The German equalled Juan Manuel Fangio's record five drivers' titles this year and a host of other marks, including Alain Prost's record for the most points and most number of race victories.

Fast, focussed, aggressive and precise, the 33-year-old's greatest strength is his supreme self-confidence. Schumacher won 11 (a record again for most number of wins in a season) in Ferrari's 15 in the 17-GP schedule; Barrichello won the other four races for the Reds while the only two non-Ferrari triumphs in the season were scored by Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard.

GRAPHICS: R. RAVIKANNAN

Meanwhile, Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya, considered by many as the `man who would be king', came up with some wonderful performances to finish third in the drivers' championship behind the Ferrari duo. He set a record-breaking lap in Monza in qualifying and a string of pole positions mid-season, but failed to translate it all in the main event. In comparison, teammate Ralf Schumacher proved more reliable when it mattered.

Ferrari, imposing team orders in the Austrian GP in a bid to secure Schumacher his fifth title, has tarnished the image of the side. Schumacher would have won the title anyway, so why make a mockery of the sport, asked enraged fans.

The fact of the matter is that team orders have existed in motor sports since the time teams got involved. But then, none has been as blatant as Barrichello allowing Schumacher to `pass' at the finish line. Ron Dennis, owner of McLaren, rightly described Ferrari's action as "trivialising what is a very challenging sport." The FIA slapped a fine on Ferrari for this act. In fact, some claim that the US GP was no different (dead-heat finish, with Barrichello winning ahead of Schumacher).

The history of F-1 is filled with orchestrated finishes, right from the 1930s, even involving legendary sides like Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix team and after World War II, the Alfa Romeo factory team.

In fact, Peter Collins famously allowed Juan Manuel Fangio to win the 1956 World championship, telling Enzo Ferrari later that, "I never thought that a 25-year-old guy like me could take on such a big responsibility. I have lots of time ahead of me. Fangio should stay World champion for another year. He deserves it." Ironically, Collins never won a title; he died two years later at the Nurburgrig.

There have been team orders involving Ferrari and Ford, among others, in the 60s & 70s and in 1991 at Suzuka, Gerhard Berger helped Ayrton Senna win the title. Berger set the pace and attracted Nigel Mansell to give him the chase. Mansell went off. Senna won the title, but at the finish he pulled over and let Berger win the race.

AFP

Ferrari team-mates Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello. Barrichello, who won four GPs, had to abide by the team's orders to allow Schumacher `pass' at the finish line in the Austrian Grand Prix for which act the FIA slapped a fine on Ferrari.

Williams imposed team orders to help Damon Hill's championship challenge in 1994, as David Coulthard moved out of the way for him at Monza, and in Australia '96 it had Jacques Villeneuve allow Hill clinch the race.

Quite understandably team orders created an uproar in Melbourne in '98 when Coulthard let Mika Hakkinen win. FIA then decided that `any act prejudicial to the interests of any competition' should, in future, be penalised severely. But it later clarified that there has been `considerable misunderstanding' about team orders and that they were not prohibited.

The World Council ruled that `it is perfectly legitimate for a team to decide that one of its drivers is its championship contender and that the other will support him. What is not acceptable is any arrangement which interferes with a race and cannot be justified by the relevant team's interest in the championship.'

In February 1999, Max Mosley told the press, "It is one thing where you do something with your team in the interest of the championship, but not where you say: `well, they are going to take it in turns' or it appears in some way to be arranged. You must not, in our view, fix races."

Interestingly, later that year, Ferrari used team orders on many occasions to enable Irvine win the title.

For the coming season, however, the FIA Commission has categorically stated that `team orders that are seen to affect the outcome of races are banned.'

The other rule changes include an expanded points system — on a scale of 10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 — as opposed to the earlier top six of 10-6-4-3-2-1. This, however, will have the effect of taking away the bonus of winning, instituted to avoid the World championship being won by those who scored fewer victories than others, as was the case in the 80s.

AP

The only two non-Ferrari triumphs were scored by Williams' Ralf Schumacher and McLaren's David Coulthard (below).

The new system is designed to close up the championship and at the same time award consistency and to help the small teams collect points.

Had the new system been in vogue this year, there would have been some changes to the championship order with the difference also getting closer. Ferrari's total would have gone up from 221 to 249 while the Williams tally would have shot up from 92 to 137. McLaren would remain third, but its total would have gone up from 65 for 97 while Renault would have more than doubled to 51 from 23. Sauber, in fifth, would have more than trebled from 11 to 37 while Jordan, at sixth, would have gone up from nine to 24. BAR, which had quite a few seventh and eighth place finishes, would have actually gone ahead of Jaguar Racing in the constructors' championship with its seven becoming 22 while the latter would have risen from eight to 18. Minardi would have dropped in standings, with its two points increasing only to seven, while Toyota would have gone ahead, its two leaping to 13. Arrows would have either way brought up the rear, its tally moving to six from two.

The one-hour qualifying format will be replaced by two one-hour sessions — one on Friday and the other on Saturday — and the cars will be sent out one at a time for one flying lap.

There were proposals for a radical shake-up after a slump in viewership figures owing to the predictability of Ferrari victories. So much so that Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone, the sport's two most powerful figures, were proposing to introduce a one-kilo penalty (ballast) for every point earned next season!

AFP

Interestingly, the governing body has offered teams the chance to abolish costly season-long testing programmes and instead run for two hours on a Friday morning using three cars and any drivers they want. This idea received strong support from smaller teams.

Ecclestone was confident that the cost-saving possibilities the proposal offered would convince all teams to take the route. "Probably when they go off and think about it they will have the decision to abandon all this expensive testing and concentrate on what is being proposed," he said.

But Mosley admitted, "we've not been successful as I would like us to have been at getting down costs. The problem has been to get agreement among the teams. If it goes on getting more and more expensive, then I think manufacturers that are not currently in it will be inclined to say it's perhaps not as good value as they would like and maybe even one or two manufacturers that are in it might stop. So I'm keeping the pressure on all the time on the teams to do a large number of things which could be done which wouldn't interfere with the spectacle, or the sporting contest, at all but would make it significantly cheaper."

He also confessed that he's not sure that there will be 22 cars on the grid in Melbourne next March. "I think 20 is more probable as the number, not necessarily because of Arrows, but because there is another team or two that are not 100 per cent in good shape, but we are just keeping our fingers crossed that they will all be there next season."

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