Motor Racing: Family at war finds a formula for peace: Schumacher takes familiar position at the front after the grand prix drivers and teams agree to return to the racetrack

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PEACE in our lunchtime gave us action in the afternoon, but although Formula One safely negotiated its first qualifying session with controversial car modifications, the drivers moved forward to tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix here in continuing trepidation.

Only nine of the 27 cars ran during the morning's unofficial practice as the majority of the teams, including Benetton-Ford, Williams-Renault and McLaren-Peugeot, dug in their heels and demanded that Max Mosley, president of FIA, the governing body, hand back the engineering to the engineers.

Mosley met the team principals inside the Williams motorhome and agreed to recognise a safety commission of eight engineers, plus the three representatives on the Grand Prix Drivers' Association. The teams, in return, put the show back on the road, running cars which incorporated the aerodynamic changes decreed to reduce downforce. The drivers also had their chicane, a makeshift tyre barrier contraption just ahead of the feared Nissan corner.

It was claimed in some quarters that Mosley had effectively been stripped of his power. He denied that, as did Bernie Ecclestone, president of the Formula One Constructors' Association, and Frank Williams, managing director of Williams. Decisions of the new body, which is due to meet for the first time on Monday, must be ratified by FIA's world council.

The world championship leader, Michael Schumacher, had his Benetton cleared to compete after the team's managing director, Flavio Briatore, accepted responsibility for its safety, and the German made light of the changes, taking provisional pole position 1.1sec ahead of Mika Hakkinen's McLaren.

Damon Hill, however, had a spin and a slide exiting the chicane on his way to third place, and was ill at ease with his Williams. He said: 'It was horrible. I was very much on the edge. It is like walking a tightrope the way it is at the moment. There is no margin at all. It's only scary in that you are just not sure what the car is going to do.'

Johnny Herbert, whose regular partner, Pedro Lamy, was injured in testing on Tuesday, was still more cautious. His Lotus-Mugen showed signs of the rear-wing problem believed to have caused Lamy's accident and he restricted his activity to three tentative laps.

Herbert, 27th and off the grid, said: 'I do not want to take the chance of being killed. If the team tell me not to race, then I won't. I've got to leave it up to the engineers. I do not mind having a shunt, but I do not want to risk getting killed just for a 'what if'.'

The drivers will meet to collate their observations on the present specification and, represented by Schumacher, Gerhard Berger and Christian Fittipaldi, present their views to the commission, which must reassess and redirect the future of car design.

Compromise, as ever, has been the byword here. The teams have committed themselves and their drivers to largely uncharted territory this weekend to regain what they believe to be their rightful domain.

Mosley said: 'This solution is excellent, but all the teams have to sign an agreement. There has been an element of improvisation. These things should have been done 12 months in advance and in future will be. We are doing all we can to make the drivers comfortable and happy.'

Asked if he felt his position had been undermined, he replied: 'To be frank, it's the reverse.'

Ecclestone, also vice-president of FIA, publicly supported him. 'Max Mosley is president of FIA and that looks after Formula One motor racing. Nothing was designed to undermine his position or challenge it. I would not like to slap Max's wrist and no one else should. Max is doing a good job and it's not easy,' he said.

'The commission will meet on a monthly basis rather than wait for something to happen. The people best qualified for safety matters are the engineers. I am satisfied this commission will come up with the right solutions.

'Formula One has never been off track. We have our little skirmishes and miss the odd chicane. I'm happy. Sometimes you need a family squabble to sort out what's what. We had a bit of a management crisis after (Ayrton) Senna's death. Maybe directions have been taken which would not have been taken in other circumstances.'

Among the more sceptical here was Niki Lauda, the driver's mentor. Commenting on the events of the past fortnight, he said: 'If they go on like this, they will bury Formula One. Even now, this will not necessarily stop the problems and arguments.'

The chicane Lauda and the drivers called for succeeded in taming the Nissan corner, even if it was assaulted by Bertrand Gachot's Pacific-Ilmor early in the afternoon. 'It solved the problem,' said McLaren's Martin Brundle, who is 14th on the overnight grid. Mark Blundell, in a Tyrrell-Yamaha, is eighth and Eddie Irvine, returning with Jordan-Hart, after serving a three-race suspension, is 12th.

David Coulthard was thrown in at the deep end, required to qualify for his first grand prix without the benefit of an unofficial session. Clutch problems further hampered him and, in the circumstances, he can be satisfied with 16th place.

The 23-year-old Scot, taking over from Senna, could scarcely have entered Formula One in more daunting circumstances. He began his career in karts at the age of 11, progressing to Formula Three cars and he chased Rubens Barrichello to the 1991 British Championship. Two seasons of Formula 3000 competition reaffirmed his belief that he belonged in grand prix racing, but this . . .

Still seemingly unflustered, he said: 'I'm disappointed I wasn't able to run in the morning and then to have problems in the afternoon. Anybody would be. But I've got to be realistic. I've not driven this car before, but at least I'm on the grid and I'm not a million miles away.'

SPANISH GRAND PRIX (Barcelona, 4.747km, 2.95 miles) First qualifying times: 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Benetton-Ford 1min 23.426sec (ave speed 204.842kph, 127.310mph); 2 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren-Peugeot 1:24.580; 3 D Hill (GB) Williams-Renault 1:24.716; 4 J Alesi (Fr) Ferrari 1:24.957; 5 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Sauber-Mercedes 1:25.115; 6 P Martini (It) Minardi-Ford 1:25.502; 7 J J Lehto (Fin) Benetton-Ford 1:25.587; 8 M Blundell (GB) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:25.863; 9 R Barrichello (Bra) Jordan-Hart 1:25.990; 10 E Comas (Fr) Larousse-Ford 1:26.097; 11 G Berger (Aut) Ferrari 1:26.121; 12 E Irvine (GB) Jordan-Hart 1:26.368; 13 M Alboreto (It) Minardi-Ford 1:26.595; 14 M Brundle (GB) McLaren-Peugeot 1:26.614; 15 U Katayama (Japan) Tyrrell-Yamaha 1:27.017; 16 D Coulthard (GB) Williams-Renault 1:27.428; 17 G Morbidelli (It) Footwork-Ford 1:27.459; 18 C Fittipaldi (Bra) Footwork-Ford 1:27.631; 19 O Panis (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:27.872; 20 O Beretta (Fr) Larrousse-Ford 1:28.011; 21 E Bernard (Fr) Ligier-Renault 1:28.299; 22 A Zanardi (It) Lotus-Mugen Honda 1:30.379; 23 D Brabham (Aus) Simtek-Ford 1:30.797; 24 A Montermini (It) Simtek-Ford 1:31.111; 25 P Belmondo (Fr) Pacific-Ilmor 1:31.750; 26 B Gachot (Bel) Pacific-Ilmor 1:34.318; 27 J Herbert (GB) Lotus-Mugen Honda 2:05.683.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Comments