Motor Racing: Comment - Cynical decision from a sport with a short memory

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The Independent Online
A show that survived and prospered after the death of Ayrton Senna will have scant problem coping with the global condemnation of their governors' latest deliberations.

Come the opening race of next season, when Michael Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve square up for their rematch, the attention of the world's media will be focused still more intensely on Formula One.

And who will be deriding the authorities as chumps then?

Patently the logical course would have been to ban Schumacher for one to three races. Even if you accept Max Mosley's argument that the sport's world governing body, the FIA, had to issue a deterrent, a suspension on top of losing runner-up place in the 1997 world championship would have been acknowledged as fair and appropriate.

By retaining Schumacher and Ferrari on the bill, the ringmasters have ensured all the major attractions are in place and the outcry will help fuel the publicity machinery through the close season.

Schumacher will be cast as the villain, Villeneuve the hero. Perfect. And if Schumacher again demonstrates he is the world's greatest driver, yesterday's skirmish near Heathrow Airport will be old news. The road show moves on, generating its own momentum at every turn.

In its macabre way, the coverage of Senna's death, in 1994, served to perpetuate the mystique of the grand prix arena and its courageous gladiators. Collisions such as Schumacher's with Villeneuve at Jerez, and with Damon Hill at Adelaide, in the final race of 1994, are trivial by comparison but sustain the tension, the smell of danger, and the controversy. To suggest Formula One is a joke, that its organisers have lost their credibility, may have substance in a sporting context, but no relevance in their unashamedly commercial world.

Senna, like Schumacher, was as ruthless as he was brilliant. Accepting defeat was anathema to him. The compulsion that drove the Brazilian to the pinnacle of his profession was the very force that propelled him into Alain Prost's car in that violent clash at the start of the 1990 Japanese Grand Prix.

Packing the German off to do what amounts to community service is comparable with Eric Cantona's "punishment" for practising his footwork on the chest of a Crystal Palace fan. Of course it is difficult to suppress cynicism, but just as a lot of youngsters were inspired by the Frenchman and his tuition, so might Schumacher's guidance prove beneficial and we should not decry positive measures.

Schumacher says he will learn from this experience and do things differently in future. Perhaps he will. But the likelihood is that someone, somewhere, will do precisely the same thing again. And Formula One will have more publicity to feed on.

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