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A whimperish abdication

2005-11-07 09:39

Egmont Sippel

If Suzuka gave us one of the most thrilling and enthralling F1 races ever, Shanghai simply dismantled the dazzle, almost in disastrous fashion.

With a loose drain cover, of all things, occupying centre stage.

Now, a race track is a slightly more complex challenge to a civil engineer, than the next street running up and down your friendly neighbourhood. One of these challenges is drainage, especially in countries often hit by monsoon weather.

So the problem was not the placement of the drain; it had to be there. The problem rather was the maintenance of the circuit over the course of a GP weekend.

And even that is not as straightforward as it sounds. If every single car in the field had finished all 56 laps, just of the race itself, then the drain cover in question would have been assaulted by the vicious power of a F1 machine no less than 1120 times.

Just on the Sunday afternoon.

So, let's say the figure rises to 2000 over the course of a GP weekend - not counting any support races.

Quite a tally, ain't it?

So let's add, just for the hell of it and as an aside, another quirky little fact to the equation, although it could in no way be seen as a contributing factor to drain covers being loosened.

But it is interesting, nevertheless, that designer Hermann Tilke had to build Shanghai's track on a 300 m-deep swamp. Seeing that such a soft soil would never be able to support such a load, the entire track foundation was made out of polystyrene and built on 40 000 piles, all of them 40-80 m deep.

Understandable, then, that something can go awry.

But it shouldn't have. Not after the guts of Mark Winterbottom's V8 Supercar had been ripped out, also by a loose cover, a few weeks prior to F1's Shanghai sortie.

Was it not time then, to weld all the covers down, like they do in Monaco?

What, for instance, would have been the consequences for the sport's image, had Montoya's car been cut open right underneath the driver himself?

The spectre of death, understandably, is never far removed from motor racing. Montoya could easily have sustained unspeakable injuries in an incident like that. He could conceivably have been killed.

By a loose drain cover.


Which leads one to think of another loose one - although it would be impossible to call Max Mosley a loose cannon; his style is far too subtle for that.

The problem with Max, though, is that he suffocates the sport, instead of serving it. By golly, when the mood takes him, Max is nigh on strangling F1, like he nearly did earlier this year with his intransigent stance during the Indy debacle.

So, he wants to cut costs. Ha! By having four different engine formulas in four successive years? Or by refusing to use his authority to force all teams to accept limited testing? Or by ditching the single tyre formula, which he himself introduced a year ago, precisely to cut costs - which it did, by about 15%!

Then again, one would have to understand which team will benefit most by the return to tyre changes during a race. Or which team could potentially have benefited most by unlimited testing, over the course of the 2005 season.

It is absurd, actually, that the remedy to some financial pains is so obvious that teams band together to willingly take a medicine that should be administered by the FIA. The FIA, if truth be told, has the authority to regulate testing by decree.

But they won't, and we all know why: in the FIA's view, one team is above the law. And so it is in the interest of that one single team that the FIA spurns the obvious, on so many fronts.

All animals are equal. But some are more equal.

Which is true of racing as well. As a showcase for F1, Japan was a lot more equal than China which, in turn, was a lot more equal than Indy - even though Shanghai was pretty dismal all by itself.

It's woes, of course, didn't end with a loose drain cover, either. Nor, in fact, did it start with it. The initiative for the day's strangest moments came straight from no less than a seven times F1 champion.

Schumacher not thinking

What on earth was Michael Schumacher thinking about, when he meandered - at slow speed during the installation lap - straight into the path of Christian Albers's fast-approaching Minardi?

Or was that the problem, that Michael was perhaps not thinking at all? For there have been occasions - and more than the casual F1 observer would know of, or care to know about - that Schumacher had been guilty of the inexplicable.

Some of it was done with evil intent, like driving into Damon Hill or Jacques Villeneuve when the title was at stake. Or driving Alonso off the track, at full speed, in Britain last year.

Other incidents, well, just point to a lack of awareness on Michael's behalf, of what's happening around him.

As of late, Schumacher has had Albers and Webber hitting him from behind. So did Montoya, last year in the Monte Carlo tunnel. In 2000, the German drove straight across Fisichella's bows, into Turn 1 of his home GP, causing a sizeable shunt for the Italian.

In the same year, the Schu nearly caused mayhem - again behind him - when he brake tested the field behind the pace car in Italy. Ricardo Zonta also ran up Michael's backside, into Turn 1 in Austria, when Michael braked early - and Barrichello even earlier and harder, to let his master through.

Is there a theory then, about the frequency with which Schumacher is rammed from behind?

Well, Michael has never been good in traffic, as he has never been great at overtaking.

But it was Dieter Rencken, a South African journalist travelling with the F1 circus, who first noticed that Schumacher's car frequently carries mirrors of different sizes.

In fact, these mirrors are often mounted at different heights and distances from the cockpit, and at such angles and so far back, according to Rencken, that they sometimes become useless to the driver, apart from 1) being used to inspect the condition the car's rear tyres, or 2) act as aerodynamic devices.

Which means that Michael is prepared to risk crashes like he has had, and therefore subjugates his own and - worse - other drivers' well-being, to his blinding thirst for success.

No blame

It also means that we might witness some more shameful moments from Michael causing accidents that should never have taken place - like the one with Albers.

That is, unless Ferrari runs way ahead of the rest again, in 2006. Or unless the FIA take steps to eradicate the problem.

But will they?

Not as long as it is Michael who is in the hot seat, one would guess. Mosley and his cronies' view will in all likelihood co-incide with those of an intrepid band of local tifosi-orientated studio commentators, whose only comment on the incident was that "Schumacher had been involved in an accident with Albers".

Oh no, it would not be said of Schumacher that he had caused that accident. That he was responsible for it. Or that he should carry any blame. It is, in fact a wonder that Albers was not nailed to the cross.

Just imagine, for instance, the vile, bile and scorn that would have been heaped upon the poor Dutchman, if it was him who had negligently drifted across the track into Schumacher's path.

And bang!

Which is what happened to poor Karthikeyan, resulting in a second pace car so that a good 30% of the Chinese GP was, in the end, run at crawling speeds, destroying any chance of a decent wheel-to-wheel battle between Raikkonen and Alonso later on in the race.

A brilliant season then, ended with a whimper, pretty much like Schumacher's own efforts.

Or hey, was there anybody else to blame for Michael's spin behind the pace car?

  • Egmont Sippel is Rapport newspaper's motoring editor

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