Motor Racing: Lauda's blast for `madman' Ralf

Ralf Schumacher yesterday came in for strong criticism for causing the crash at the Luxembourg Grand Prix that virtually ended Ferrari's Formula One title hopes.

Derick Allsop, at the Nurburgring, found Niki Lauda forthright in his condemnation of the Jordan driver.

Most of them were speechless, heads bowed in bitter resignation. The championship appeared all but gone, and Michael Schumacher's devoted mechanics could not raise so much as a whimper in anger or despair.

One member of the Ferrari camp, however, was less restrained. When you have been to hell and back, speaking your mind is no big risk and Niki Lauda was not about to turn diplomat just because it was Michael's younger brother, Ralf, who effectively scuppered their hopes of a first driver's title for 18 years.

Lauda, who won the first two of his three championships with Ferrari and in between almost died following a crash on the old circuit here, was scathing of the Jordan-Peugeot driver's part in the crucial first- corner collision in Sunday's Luxembourg Grand Prix.

Lauda, now a consultant with Ferrari, said: "If you are the brother of a possible world champion you ought to use your head once in your life. It was the action of a madman. He should lie down on a psychiatrist's couch. An intelligent driver knows a race will not be won at the first corner."

It is ironic, but perhaps not unfathomable, that Ralf, until now derided for being over supportive of his big brother, should suddenly be portrayed as the black sheep of the family.

He made little attempt to challenge Michael for fourth place at the Hungarian Grand Prix, much to the consternation of some within the Jordan camp. Here he unflinchingly fought the Ferrari from the grid. To his and his brother's dismay, Giancarlo Fisichella, in the other Jordan, wanted to negotiate the first corner at the same time.

Both Jordans were eliminated and the Ferrari, crippled by Ralf's car, had to stop after two laps. Jacques Villeneuve, further aided by the retirements of the McLaren-Mercedes pair, Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard, won the race and now leads the championship by nine points with two grands prix remaining. Any position in the points ahead of Schumacher in Japan, on Sunday week, will give the Williams-Renault driver the title.

Schumacher, however, summoned words of defiance. "What happened was a big disappointment and it leaves me in a difficult situation," he said. "But no way do I give up the title. Many things can happen."

Even victories at Suzuka and Jerez might not prove sufficient to deny Villeneuve, but the Canadian, who along with Heinz-Harald Frentzen will be driving for Williams again next season, also insists the contest is not over.

"Things went my way here but it could be a different story in Japan," he said.