All the world loves a winning Ferrari

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Motor racing


reports from Montreal

Formula One is gleaming in its fresh lick of paint: the red of Ferrari and the, well, among many colours, green of Jordan-Peugeot. Nothing like a new coat to warm body and soul.

Ferrari's progress has been constant and, although they have yet to match the performance of Michael Schumacher's Benetton-Renault, they had the measure of Williams-Renault in Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix here.

Jean Alesi profited from the world champion's problems to celebrate a maiden victory and it seemed the whole world wanted to celebrate with him.

Jordan were the beneficiaries of the mishaps which beset the other recognised front runners, Rubens Barrichello and Eddie Irvine claiming personal-best finishes, second and third respectively. Their progress has been less obvious but the celebration was no less welcome.

Every sport thrives on changing faces and the appearance of these three on the podium here not only radiated the unbridled joy of human achievement but also gave the cold business of motor racing's premier category a necessary shot in the arm.

Alesi, on his 31st birthday and in his 91st grand prix, had his elusive maiden win, Ferrari had a record 105th and the money men an unexpected bonus.

Ferrari generate interest and gate receipts as no other team, and Alesi's emergence as a potential championship force provides France with another genuine hero to follow Alain Prost.

Until Sunday, ticket sales for the French Grand Prix, at Magny-Cours, on 2 July, stood at a modest 30,000. Now the organisers are rubbing their hands in anticipation of surging demand.

Brilliant though Schumacher is and deserved as victory would have been for the German here, it threatened a crippling blow to the world championship as a credible contest. An electronics glitch sabotaged his gearbox and cost him a lengthy pit stop. Unfortunate for him, yet a godsend for the show. He finished fifth and his boss, Flavio Briatore, shrugged off the disappointment with a philosophical: "You can't win them all."

The chances are Schumacher will still win most of them but what of Williams? David Coulthard spun out on the second lap and Damon Hill abandoned his car when it became stuck in gear. He had more complaints and his boss, Frank Williams, said: "Maybe Damon has a problem, but we do not. We win together and we lose together. I hope this is a temporary aberration. We will bounce back. We've got a good team and we will get it right."

You must wonder, however, whether the team would get it right quicker with Patrick Head, their technical director, present at all the grands prix. His expertise, leadership and experience have long been recognised as essential to Williams' operation.

Those qualities were otherwise engaged back in England at the weekend with the team's fledgling touring-car effort. Head also missed trips to Barcelona this year, and Jerez towards the end of last season. On those occasions, too, Williams were soundly beaten.

On this occasion all the high-profile vulnerability gave Eddie Jordan and his jolly green boys the chance to savour a drop of the bubbly stuff. They do not fool themselves they have cracked it, but they were due a break and their achievement is proof, in the wake of Simtek's demise, that small teams can survive and grow in Formula One.

Jordan have had to negotiate a difficult learning period with Peugeot, Barrichello has had to address the reality of his falling stock, and Irvine has had to convince Formula One's politically correct that he is a worthy citizen of their kingdom. Or should that be surfdom?

Jordan said: "This has taken pressure off me and the team. It's a relief and very satisfying. It's very difficult in Formula One and the odds are against small teams coming through. But I'd like to think we are an example to them.

"We have had to work on Rubens psychologically. He had to get back his belief. We had a chat and he got the message. He knew he had to perform.

"Eddie obeyed all the pit signals to hold station. We didn't want them fighting. People said I would regret signing Irvine but in my opinion, this year, he has been one of the most professional and cool-headed drivers and is a great prospect.

"He has brought the team together in the early part of the season and I couldn't have greater regard for him."