Egmont's column: The Sequel
Egmont Sippel delves behind F1's iron curtain to find out who the best driver is and the real reason for Schumi's abandoned comeback.
“I’m embarrassed to be called Luca,” Luca Brasi said. “In fact, I’m embarrassed that my surname starts with a ‘B’. If you shorten it in the Franz Kafka or JM Coetzee way, I’ll be known as Luca B. And that might just as well stand for Luca Badoer.”
Luca M nodded. He understood the predicament. Nobody wants to be known as Luca B, in the same way that Diepsloot won’t have a beauty competition as nobody wants to be known as Miss Diepsloot.
“I think I’ll get my piano cord out again,” Luca Brasi said. “It’s been idle since Mario Puzo stopped writing.”
Luca M looked weary. Since the Hungarian GP weekend his team had been through a crash course in disaster management.
The latest was learning how to cope with being last in Friday Practice 1, almost last in Friday Practice 2, last in Saturday Morning Practice, last in Q1, last on the grid, last in the race (of those who finished) and last on the list of quickest laps.
A Royal Flush of Lasts. This has never happened to Ferrari before.
“It should never happen again, either,” Luca M said in a soft voice. “The Prancing Horse should prance über alles. That’s a phrase I picked up from Michael, by the way.”
“Yes,” Luca Brasi, also known as Luca No. 2, nodded. “With our engines in the Toro Rosso, Ferrari’s name was splattered across the bottom-placed positions in Valencia, whilst Mercedes’s name appears three times in the top four. Oh, how my hands itch for my piano cord!”
Most closely matched driver pairing
“Enough!” Luca Monte cried. “Enough! As Don Corleone’s henchman you’ve lived long enough as a figment of Mario Puzo’s imagination. Come down to earth and get yourself a gun instead of a piece of string.”
“A proper gun,” Brasi said. “Like a Glock?”
There was a long silence. Then Luca Monte asked: “Who’s the closest driver pairing on the grid?”
“Kimi and Felipe,” Luca No. 2 answered.
“Not the best, the closest?” Luca No. 1 asked again, before answering his own question by recounting, in detail, how closely matched Trulli and Glock are (see endnote).
“In Valencia, though, Timo was a lot quicker than Trulli. This now, after rumours that Toyota is about to drop Jarno for next year. Remember how he fell asleep after Renault ditched him for 2005?
“So, what if we can get an early release from Toyota and put Jarno in the second Ferrari? Mama Mia, an Italian in an Italian car! By the way, what was the last driver pairing that were so equally matched?”
“Dunno,” Brasi said. “Senna obliterated Prost and the rest of his team mates. Except for one notably exception, when Berger got the gap down to 0.6 seconds, the gap between Senna and the other guy at Monaco had always been a second or bigger. Even with Prost it was 1.4 secs in ’88 quali and 1.2 secs in ’89 quali. And Prost was a four-time Monaco winner plus a four-time world champion.”
“Pity Ayrton never drove for us,” Monte Ze Molo agreed. “That was his dream, in any case. Cesare Fiorio came close to signing him. But the answer to my question is Fisichella and Wurz, in 1999. A year later, though, Fisi destroyed Wurz. And as an Italian team, we never supported him. Now we have to rectify that.”
“Is that why you went for Badoer, in Valencia, instead of Gené?” Brasi asked. “Because he is Italian?”
Schu’s lap times
“Well,” Monte Ze Molo ducked and dived, as he is so good at doing. “His name is Luca, to begin with. And if you go back to 1999, Luca’s last year in F1, he was consistently better than Gené, at Minardi. So, nobody knew that he was going to be as slow as he was in Valencia. If it was not compulsory, we never would have published his lap times.”
“Talking of which,” Brasi interrupted, “why have we never seen any of Schumacher’s lap times during his recent tests at Fiorano?”
Luca No. 1 looked down again. “That’s the point, Luca No. 2. Think for yourself. Michael hid behind this mystery motorcycle crash, much like Bob Dylan did in the ’60s, when all that Bob actually needed was time out to come off too much speed. Michael, on the other hand, had too little speed. It was a bit of a soft shoe shuffle. What do you think would have happened if he was hot at Fiorano?”
“Of course!” Brasi exclaimed. “It would have been all over the Bundesrepublik. Germany would have issued a commemorative stamp. Willi Weber would have tattooed it on his forehead.”
“Exactly,” Montezemolo confirmed. “Michael was too slow. So we had to find an excuse. And we had to look for another driver. Hence Luca No. 3.”
“But why him?” Luca No. 2 asked. “If you wanted a slow Italian, you could have asked Flavio Briatore. He must have something, if he has the balls to call Button a paracarro – although Button has been a bit of a concrete block over the last couple of races. At least Flavio talks a good race!”
“Flavio can’t talk,” Luca Monte Ze Molo shot back. “He grunts, like Rocky Stallone. There’s another Italian Stallion that could have done the job badly. He was very destructive in Drivel. Problem is, you won’t find a helmet huge enough for his big head.”
“You talking Stallone?”
“No, Flavio. His ego is bigger and more permanent than his tan, which is deeper and more varied than his vocabulary. Flavio doesn’t even use verbs. ‘Luca, you good?’ he growls to me on the grid.”
“Verbs? What’s that, a new kind of vermon, a dangerous flu?”
“Flu-vio. What a joke. And he sits with Alonso, the world’s best driver.”
Is Alonso the world’s best?
“Is he?” Luca Brasi asked. “Is Alonso the best driver in the world?’
“Well, it’s not for nothing that we’re going to pay him a record salary, next year, to join Ferrari!”
“But you did the same with Kimi, to lure him to Maranello in 2006. And look where that one’s heading!”
“I know, I know. To Fiat! How to fall out of a Ferrari, into a Fiat!”
“So, I ask again,” said Luca Brasi, “is Alonso the best driver in the world? In 2007, he was kind of tied for pace and results by a rookie. And whilst you’ve made a good study of Trulli and Timo’s lap times, you might have missed those of the Renault boys at Valencia.”
“What do you mean?” asked Montezemolo.
“The rookie did a 1.39.428.”
“A 1:39.494. Nothing devilish like being 0.666 secs slower. But it does work out to a deficit of 0.066 secs.”
“What?” Luca Montezemolo exclaimed. “Grosjean quicker than Alonso? That won’t last. It will have to change. Luca No. 2, where’s your piano cord? Go talk to Flavio. He’s gotta pull the strings. I’m not going to pay all that money to Alonso if yet another rookie is quicker than him! No ways! Non mai!”
“Well, how shall I persuade him?”
“I don’t care,” Montezemolo shouted. “Tell him the deal is off. The Finn might not have phoned Felipe yet, to ask him about his eye, which is sad. But he has zipped up his fly, stopped caning the vodka and woken up in the car. Kimi is driving the nuts off that bucket of bolts, now that he has to carry the whole can. Maybe Kimi just needed our undivided attention, or all of the responsibility, to perform again.
"Maybe we should then go back to a clear No. 1 and 2 – like it is with you and me, Brasi – or a fast and a slow driver. Luca No. 2, forget about Flavio. Phone Luca No. 3 and tell him he’ll drive for the rest of the year. Or Schumacher, he’s slow enough now, after his bike crash, I’ve seen his Fiorano times. Or that little Ant that’s crawling to be in our second seat. Or perhaps even Villeneuve or Piquet, meaning Piquet snr. Maybe even Senna. Anybody can win against the dead.”
My name is Luca...
Luca M slumped back into his chair. One Luca B has been a miserable failure in the car, the other Luca B is giving him a hard time with tales and times of Flavio’s boys. How he hates Flavio, the clothing – and confidence – trickster who has grabbed more world championships in the last five years than Ferrari did, not to speak of model girlfriends and oh my, what a wife, that Italian girl that hooked up to Flavio.
Funny thing - and this is fact - is that there is not a single pic of any of Flavio’s pretty escorts, from Naomi Campbell to Heidi Klum, in his house. Only pics of himself. And yes, one other person: the Pope. Plus Flavio. Or rather: Flavio. Plus the Pope.
Luca M sighed. Life is a mad and confusing affair when the gods spring a surprise, like they did on Felipe. Or like they did on F1, with Flavio. Better then, to make peace with the chaos. It was time to escape.
So Luca M said to Luca B: “Luca, forget about Flavio. Pour me a grappa instead and play us some music.”
Then he sat back in the chair that once belonged to Mario Puzo, and before that to Don Corleone, and before that to Enzo – at least according to Puzo.
Luca took a swig of grappa. The hi-fi started to hum.
“My name is Luca,” it sang. “I live on the second floor . . .”
This is what Luca Montezemolo told Luca Brasi, about Trulli and Glock, and why he regarded them as the best-matched driver pairing on the grid:
“In Oz, in Q2 – when drivers go for broke on empty tanks – Trulli did a 1:25.265, Glock a 1:25.281. In Q3 they were within a tenth, either side of 1:27. In the race they were third and fourth, after Hamilton’s disqualification.
“Then, in Friday Practice 1 in Malaysia they were 1:36.980 vs .982 in Glock’s favour. That’s about the length of an ant, on the track. In the afternoon’s FP2 it was less than a tenth in Trulli’s favour. On Saturday morning it was 1:36.132 vs .189 for Trulli. In Q1 it was just more than a tenth, in Q2 just more than two-tenths, Trulli.
“In China FP1 it was less than a tenth, Trulli. Q1 was 1:36.308 vs .364, Trulli. Bahrain FP1 was just more than a tenth, Trulli. Q2 was 1:32.613 vs .671, Glock. The two fastest laps in the race itself were Trulli and Glock: 1:34.556 and .574. On Saturday in Spain it was just more than a tenth, Trulli. Q3 was 1:21.247 vs .254, Glock.
“On Thursday in Monaco it was just more than a tenth to Glock, in the morning, and two-tenths to Trulli in Q1, when both dropped out. In the race itself it was 1:16.011 vs .066, Trulli.
“Saturday morning in Turkey it was 1:28.022 vs .094, Trulli. The race was 1:27.868 vs .883, Trulli. At Silverstone Trulli was faster, except in the race, when Glock was a tenth quicker.
“That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
“But in Germany, Trulli outpaced Timo comfortably, all weekend long. Hungary started the same way, but in the race Glock finished better and was seven-tenths faster than Jarno. Valencia was back to normal, with Jarno a tenth quicker in FP1, two-tenths in FP2 and four-tenths in Saturday morning practice. Then he was four-tenths slower in Q1 and low and behold, in the race Glock was quickest of all, with Trulli down in 15th, a full 1.3 seconds slower than Timo.
“That’s strange. How come Jarno is now suddenly so much slower than Glock?”