Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ralf Lines Up His Spot in the DTM Graveyard


It was finally confirmed on Monday that F1 reject Ralf Schumacher has signed for Mercedes in the 2008 DTM Championship.

Ralf commented in a recent interview with "During my last three years in F1, I didn't have much success and it almost sounded strange to me when Norbert (Haug) mentioned in a conversation that a little while ago I managed to win two Grand Prix within only eight days.

"However, I am still the same Ralf as at those times, the same racer who has fun in motor sports and who wants to compete with the best.

"I like the DTM, I like the environment, and I like the enthusiastic and positive spectators. And I like Mercedes – with them I got my first chance to test a Formula 1 car in 1996 and who knows how my Formula One career would have turned out if I had accepted the McLaren Mercedes offer to become their test driver for 1997.

"But then I wanted to drive races, and that's what I still want today, more than ten years later."

Of course, there will be constant question marks hanging over Herr Schumacher the younger, as his Formula 1 career passed in a similar vein to that of Jacques Villeneuve – as a man whose early success and respect seemingly vacated him, leaving a much maligned also-ran towards the end.

But it does appear in the little snippet above that Ralf may be turning a new leaf, renowned as he was for being one of the most miserable and least approachable participants in the highest echelons of the sport, he seems amicable, almost chummy after confirming his Mercedes Drive.

Maybe the DTM is what Ralf needs, maybe he needs to step out of the world of the Ron Dennis christened “Piranha club” that is the F1 paddock, and enter a realm in which he might be able to flourish again, under the wing of Mercedes in a German flavoured series (even if he has to do it in last years car).

One other thing.

While Schumacher himself may appear fresh and keen now he has firmed up a paid Trilux Mercedes race seat for ’08, there is still a big question over whether or not DTM is a bit of an F1 graveyard; a place where the dying stars of the single seater top flight come to have their last remnants of stardom squeezed out before finally being placed on the scrap-heap they seemed destined for until Merc appearance brandishing a friendly shoulder and an even friendlier cheque.

If properly successful, the ex-Williams and Toyota peddler would break the mould. Jean Alesi, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Mika Hakkinen. All venerable race winners in F1. One a double world champion. Each had his moments in the DTM, but none became a real regular frontrunner.

Those positions fell to the likes of Bernd Schneider, Gary Paffett and Bruno Spengler. Touring car drivers in up-to-date touring cars, not past F1 pilots in second-rate machinery providing a nostalgic surname on a timing sheet.

Best of luck Ralf. You will need it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alonso to Renault. Kovalainen to McLaren?


After the whole Renault spy affair scandal has inexplicably passed without punishment for the French manufacturer, they have confirmed their last World Champion Fernando Alonso as lead driver for 2008.

Now while Briatore and co clearly sees Alonso as the team’s Messiah after an average year as de-facto fourth best team, many would be dubious of employing the Spaniard.

Showing at McLaren how subordinate and potentially backstabbing he can be if his backside isn’t wiped and his ego caressed by an adoring team, I’m sure that many other manufacturer squads in the Championship would think twice about employing him, the exceptions being old best mate’s Renault, and new allies Ferrari (to whom many believe he will go next year).

How he would cope alongside the current fastest man Kimi Raikkonen at the Maranello squad remains to be seen – he won’t be number one there that’s for sure.

But of course, alongside the Oviedo man, Renault want some-one who will bend to their whim and be lap-dog to his team-mate in gratitude of a place in the race team.

Enter Nelson Piquet Jr.

The question now arises as to how much like his father the young Brazilian will be: remember, in his time alongside Nigel Mansell, Nelson Sr was hardly a happy and fulfilled man – so much so that on refusing to play second fiddle and trying his best to out-do the Brit, he nearly ruined his career.

But looking outside the French camp for ’08, questions now have to be asked about the driver’s that have been cast out; namely Giancarlo Fisichella and Heikki Kovalainen.

The first seems keen to do whatever he can to keep his place in F1, dropping to the depths of current journey-men Force India (see Spyker/Midland/Jordan) for a possible drive next year.

But the latter is currently a free man. And a quick one at that.

So surely, surely, McLaren will swoop to gather the latest flying Finn to slot in alongside boy-wonder Lewis Hamilton for 2008 and beyond, seeing as at the moment they have the only real empty seat (despite constant rumours that Trulli at Toyota or Barrichello at Honda could be farmed off into retirement or Super Aguri respectively) they must be Kovalainen’s main chance of keeping a deserved competitive seat in the sport.

How keen will he be to run alongside Hamilton at the Anglo-German squad next year?

That remains to be seen.

You Dare To Question Us?


Once again the FIA have shot themselves in the foot on the respectability front as it has now arisen that they intend to sue the Sunday Times and Martin Brundle for suggesting they were engaging in a ‘witch hunt’ against McLaren Mercedes in the ‘Spygate’ scandal.

But Brundle has a point.

It is a long standing and well known fact that Ron Dennis’ and the Woking boys are not exactly on holding-hands terms with the sport’s French governing body, and many believe that the $100million fine for McLaren having been in possession of Ferrari documentation was another case of one-upmanship on the part of the FIA; a firm reminder of who’s in charge.

But after Renault – who was found guilty of having McLaren information from the last two year’s cars (courtesy of an employee who swapped sides) – went unpunished in the FIA court, the allegations of ‘witch-hunting’ strengthened.

Brundle, veteran of 158 grand prix, believes that the sport’s governing body clearly tried to prove a point with their punishment of McLaren Mercedes, and also states in his latest column that the timing of this lawsuit against the Sunday paper is not coincidental:

“The timing of the writ is significant, in my view, given the FIA's decision to find Renault guilty of having significant McLaren designs and information within their systems, but not administering any penalty,” Brundle writes.

“It is a warning sign to other journalists and publications to choose their words carefully over that decision.

“I'm tired of what I perceive as the 'spin' and tactics of the FIA press office, as are many other journalists.”

Many have waited with bated breath for the outcome of this hearing, as it is believed that ex-World Champion Fernando Alonso’s race seat for next year, as well as the French manufacturer’s (and Bernie’s mate Flavio’s) future in Formula One, were in the balance.

But now Renault has been inexplicably and unfairly cleared, their plans for next year can continue.

In the meantime, the FIA are doing everything they can to screw up McLaren Mercedes. This much is clear.

Firstly, another company is found guilty of possessing more information on McLaren than the English company had on Ferrari, yet they go unpunished while McLaren struggle to find £50million. (A serious and disturbing case of double-standards)

And then, the FIA decide to hold-up checking McLaren’s 2008 car for Ferrari influences (surely the Renault is as likely to have McLaren bits) until one month before the start of the season, leaving the Woking team on edge that their car may be banned so soon before the first GP of the season.

While McLaren’s integrity is top notch and few believe there will be any suspiciously Italian bits nailed to the car, I’m sure Jean Todt’s FIA buddies can and will find something ‘stolen’ on the MP4-23.

The FIA appear to be doing everything they can to try and stuff McLaren as hard as possible, and anyone who won’t stand up and dance to their tune is being dragged into the dock.

Nice ‘sport’ we’ve got here…

For Martin Brundle's full column, see