Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 26th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The look on the face of the President of Ferrari said it all – “The gods must be against us”. Luca di Montezemolo is not a man who hides his emotions and when Michael Schumacher made a rare mistake and left the track during final qualifying at San Marino it was just too much for the Ferrari boss. His face and his body language expressed not just disappointment but also revealed that he knew that a supreme opportunity to regain momentum in the 2005 Formula 1 season had been lost. Montezemolo feared that the hard work over the previous three weeks to get their 2005 car competitive had been negated by one tiny error of judgment by his star driver. Schumacher was to have to start from fourteenth on the grid and surely there was no possibility that even he could win from so far back? Maybe if there was rain and he could use his mastery in the wet to cut through the field – not on a dry track and with tyres which so far this season had been uncompetitive.

Michael Schumacher is not normally a man who needs any extra incentives to compete at his best – even after 83 Grand Prix victories and seven drivers’ titles. But the look of thunder on his team president’s face may just have been the spur that Schumi needed to give the performance of his life in this Grand Prix. And Schumacher’s efforts, which all so nearly succeeded, have also contributed to further raising the interest and excitement of this remarkable Formula 1 season. Make no mistake about it at the beginning of the year F1 was on the ropes. For some, Ferrari’s (and Schumacher’s) utter dominance took interest away from the sport. Combine this with political and financial troubles in the administration of F1, and disarray in some teams, and the prospects for the season were gloomy. Ferrari’s early season troubles with a sub-standard car and real problems with their Bridgestone tyres created an opening into which the Renault team and (in particular) Fernando Alonso gratefully jumped. Alonso has been outstanding and there is no fluke at all in his hat trick of wins.

When Michael Schumacher won his first Grand Prix at Spa in 1992 at the age of 23 Alonso was eleven years old - so they are almost a Grand Prix generation apart. Alonso was even younger than Schumacher when he had his first Grand Prix win last year - and this year the young Spaniard has shown that, without question, he has the potential to succeed Schumacher…in due course! I still think that Schumi and Ferrari have the time to turn the 2005 season around and although the twenty-six point gap in the Drivers' world championship, and the twenty-eight point deficit in the Constructors' world championship, will take some catching up I think that they can do it. There are still fifteen races to go in the 2005 season and anything can happen. The key is reliability. If the Ferraris and the Renaults are equally reliable through the rest of the season then Alonso may already have the championship in the bag. The extent of Schumacher’s task is clear. If he wins all the remaining Grands Prix, and Alonso finishes second in them, then it would be Schumacher’s eighth championship – but only by four points. But if Ferrari does start winning consistently, and Renault falter, then Schumacher could have a much more comfortable championship win.

Looking back over the past few seasons it has not only been the brilliance of Schumacher, and the overall power of the Ferrari that has been the reason for their success. Reliability has also played a crucial part. Even when Schumacher did not win his car would reliably deliver championship points - and similarly Rubens Barrichello would come up with the positions which would help deliver the constructors’ title. Whilst some teams have challenged from time to time, these challenges have always faded away. No team has established anything like the reliability of Ferrari and that is now the challenge for Renault. They have a young, hungry and supremely talented driver in Fernando Alonso who, after four Grands Prix, has a commanding lead in the drivers’ championship. Can the engineers and the technical team of Renault now deliver the race after race reliability that a championship win will require? It will be fascinating to see!