Do I not like that . . .: A burning injustice: Peter Collins, managing director of Team Lotus, is saddened by the higher stakes that have tarnished motor racing

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The Independent Online
IT HAS been an unhappy year for motor sport, with tragedy, controversy and acrimony constantly threatening to tarnish its image. This weekend at Monza has been no exception. Inevitably, there have been strong feelings expressed in the paddock about the ban imposed on Michael Schumacher last Wednesday by the FIA and their judgements on the legality of the Benetton and McLaren teams.

But what really disappoints me is the environment in Formula One. It is confrontational and, on occasions, ruthless - off the track as well as on it. Grand prix racing is now played out in an extremely competitive arena, and one is tempted to think that it is more intense than ever. But that is a deception: 10 years ago the business was just as high-pressure. It is today's questionable ethics that have made the difference.

My racing career started 30 years ago when we were still in the era of Jimmy Clark. Since then standards have declined. There has been much talk of how technology must not be bridled - which it has now - but the thing that has probably affected the environment of Formula One most has been the pursuit of success through expenditure rather than through technology. It has raised the stakes.

Nevertheless there are too many people in Formula One who are prepared to believe the bad in others rather than the good. I hate any tarnishing of the image of grand prix racing, but the damage done is not irreversible.

As soon as any one car goes particularly quickly, as Schumacher has in the Benetton this year, there will always be speculation as to that car's legality. This is inevitable in such a competitive business.

What I really don't like are the sentiments being expressed in some quarters that whoever takes the World Championship will have won a hollow victory. People are saying that if Schumacher wins, then questions would remain about the car he drove. On the other hand, if Hill wins they will maintain that the championship was manipulated in order to help him to victory.

This is extremely unjust, because as a team owner I know only too well just what sort of effort is required just to enter races, let alone to win them and to be in a position to challenge for the championship.

I think the FIA have acted very responsibly over the past few months. They have identified problem areas, they have brought individuals and teams to book, and ultimately they have made a judgement which I believe was the right one. They have considered all the aspects of the cases in front of them and they have fired an effective warning shot to all competitors in the World Championship, indicating that they will not tolerate the rules being exploited. I do not approve of people trying to gain a technical advantage by breaking the regulations that are in place to restrict them.

It has taken some of the competitive edge out of the race that Schumacher is not at Monza this weekend, but having said that, the rules are the rules. I think he will win the championship, and he will still have the chance to fight for it after the Portuguese Grand Prix in two weeks.

He is quite simply the best driver around and that class will eventually triumph, no matter what difficulties there have been along the way. Michael's talent in terms of natural ability, application, tactics, strategy, feel, race- craft and natural speed will see him through.

Having said that, there is a small group of drivers of a similar level of talent but who do not have the right equipment, the right opportunities and the team environment with which to display their talent. That is why it is so difficult to compare drivers across eras, or even at different stages of their careers, and why a driver emerges from time to time, as Schumacher has, and tends to dominate.

There will always be peaks and troughs, and that is what makes motor racing so special. Although 1994 has been the worst year we have had for a long time for a wide variety of reasons, it has given us an increase in television and press exposure and, more to the point, an increase in race attendances. So, instead of stoking the fires of controversy, we need to focus on the strengths and appeal of our business. We need to get on with what really matters - the racing.

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