Motor Racing: Tactics stir up rage in Rosberg

Andrew Longmore finds a former world champion harking back to the good bold days
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The Independent Online
Formula One has always been the bitchiest of performance arts. And last week the queue of former grand prix drivers lining up to condemn Michael Schumacher stretched the length of the Silverstone pitlane. Jody Scheckter, Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill were among those quick to prosecute; a predictable defence was mounted by Niki Lauda, ever perverse, but too close to the Ferrari camp to be truly objective.

In Monte Carlo, another world champion, Keke Rosberg, usually one of the most colourful commentators, decided that his best line of attack was a diplomatic silence, not least because his protege and client, Mika Hakkinen, had benefited most from the collision at Jerez.

On the wrong end of the telephone it was difficult to see if smoke was rising from Rosberg's ears, but his anger, heightened by the one-race ban meted out to Hakkinen for his part in a series of startline accidents n 1994, was scarcely contained. One law for the rich, another for the averagely rich seemed to be his unspoken interpretation of the Schumacher affair and the light tap on the wrist administered to the twice champion by the sport's authorities last week. "I have learnt enough in life to know that what I would like to say is best left unsaid, because it will do no one any good."

Rosberg is still held in awe by all those who saw the Finn's cavalier brand of driving. Like Nigel Mansell, Rosberg did not believe in playing the percentages; it was 100 per cent or nothing. If there was another car on the track, he would try to overtake it and if his car fell to pieces in the chase, so be it. Ronnie Petersen and Gilles Villeneuve were of the same stock; racers to the core. But in harking back to the good old days, Rosberg inadvertently raised some questions which the authorities might usefully ponder during the close season.

"When I was in Formula One, the ethics were totally different," Rosberg said. "Alan Jones or Nelson Piquet, they were hard, committed racing drivers, but they would never have done what Schumacher did. There was an understanding, an unwritten code that in the last two or three laps of a race we might use a little bit of other means to fight for position, but otherwise we had rules.

"In those days, there was a lot of slipstream, so if you wanted to get by you wouldn't change your line, you let him go and follow in behind and overtake him on the next lap. Overtaking is very difficult now. There is no slipstream because of the aerodynamics of the cars and all the research and computers have completely changed the game. You remember Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve at Dijon, they banged wheels, went inside each other and tried everything they knew. It was maybe a little too hard, but it was fair."

Ayrton Senna introduced the notion of intimidation into overtaking. Other drivers new from experience the consequences of driving down his inside. Schumacher has followed that lead, with desperate results. Yet, according to Jacques Villeneuve, the narrower, grooved tyres on next year's cars will make races even more processional, encouraging further bouts of road rage. An explanation rather than excuse for hooliganism, implied Rosberg. "In our day, we seemed to be able to get away with racing without so much involvement by the authorities. We knew how hard someone would fight for their position. But driving into someone else's car? That was never an option."

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