Barrichello in tears at Ferrari's shame

Schumacher embarrassed to accept victory after Ferrari orders dominant Brazilian team-mate to let him pass
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The Independent Online

The bizarre spectacle on the rostrum served only to spread the stain with a grubby rag. Michael Schumacher attempted to cover his embarrassment by ushering his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, to the centre and handed him the winner's trophy.

The damage, however, could not be undone. The howls of derision from the stands at the A1-Ring were echoed by the protests by prominent figures in the paddock. Ferrari had done it again.

Twelve months after ordering Barrichello to concede second place to Schumacher, they instructed the Brazilian to move over and present the German with his first victory in the Austrian Grand Prix.

Ferrari argued they were acting in the best interests of the team, backing their leading driver in the championship and ensuring him potentially crucial additional points. Schumacher went into the race on 44 points, Barrichello on six.

The purists were unmoved. This year Ferrari are so dominant that the rest already acknowledge Schumacher's fifth title is assured. He already had a 21-point advantage over Williams-BMW's Juan Pablo Montoya. Barrichello had the edge over his illustrious partner all weekend, taking pole position, leading from the start and deserving what would have been only his second grand prix success. Then in the final yards, he slowed and Schumacher registered his 58th victory by less than two-tenths of a second.

Schumacher maintained he took no pleasure from the result and claimed he wished he could have turned back the clock and disobeyed the team. But it was too late for reconsideration. Ferrari's strategy seemed all the more unpalatable on a day when the rookie Japanese driver, Takuma Sato, had survived a terrifying accident. His Jordan-Honda had been struck by Nick Heidfeld's out of control Sauber. Courageous, honest young men were physically uninjured yet shaken to the marrow. And then this, from the champion team and the champion driver.

Patrick Head, Williams' experienced and much respected technical director, added his wolf whistles to those of the public at the end. His team pride themselves as racers and he could not tolerate what he had just witnessed. He said: "We try to deliver motorsport but what Ferrari showed today was disgusting cinema. It's very cynical, some might say bordering on the fraudulent. A man who had bet a lot of money on Barrichello would not be too happy. If it had been horseracing there would be a stewards' inquiry. We're used to it from Ferrari. They have produced a brilliant car and don't have to do this. They've done themselves no favours.''

Gerhard Berger, the motorsport director of BMW, Williams' partners, suggested that the FIA, the sport's governing body, should launch an inquiry.

That is unlikely. Team orders have long been part of motor racing and Barrichello knew the score even before a wheel was turned yesterday. He had signed a new two-year contract which spelled out the realities of his role. Unless and until he is the team's better placed driver in the championship – as his predecessor Eddie Irvine was towards the end of 1999 – Schumacher will have priority.

Barrichello said: "It's a team decision. And I accept it. I've just signed a two-year contract. My determination will get me a lot more wins.''

Schumacher's discomfiture was palpable. He presented a logical case for the defence, threw in an act of contrition, but still his countenance betrayed a sense of guilt.

He said: "This is not the way we would like it and I'm not happy to win like this. But imagine if we lost the championship by the number of points I have gained today. We would look stupid. It's a situation where you can't win.

"I don't think the credibility of the sport has been damaged. We've seen it before. Some will understand, others won't. I was thinking of disobeying the team. I backed off and he backed off further. But it all happened in the last 200 metres. It was probably the wrong decision to win this race. If I had the chance to go back and change things I would.''

Barrichello was reminded of his obligation after their second pit-stops, nine laps from the end and Schumacher was informed in the closing stages. Jean Todt, Ferrari's sporting (sic) director, said: "Sometimes we have to take difficult decisions and this was one of those times. In the past we have lost the championship at the last race three times in a row and we know we are up against strong opposition.''

In truth, the opposition this season is scarcely a threat to Ferrari. Montoya was a distant third, Ralf Schumacher back in fourth.

The controversy overshadowed all else, even the violent Heidfeld-Sato collision. The Sauber careered backwards, smashing into and destroying the Jordan. Sato was airlifted to hospital, where he was reported to have suffered only a bruised thigh and sore knee. "He's had a miraculous escape,'' Professor Sid Watkins, the chief medical officer, told Eddie Jordan, the team's head.

That incident and Olivier Panis's earlier spin in his BRA-Honda necessitated the deployment of the safety car but nothing could interrupt Ferrari's command of proceedings.

Giancarlo Fisichella gained some much needed consolation for Jordan with fifth place and the team's first points of the season. David Coulthard was sixth in his McLaren-Mercedes, Jenson Button seventh in a Renault and Allan McNish ninth for Toyota. Eddie Irvine retired his Jaguar midway through the race.

RACE DETAILS

1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 33min 51.562sec (average speed of 196.344khp, 122.028mph)

2 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari + 0.182sec

3 J P Montoya (Col) Williams-BMW +17.730

4 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams-BMW +18.448

5 G Fisichella (It) Jordan-Honda +49.965

6 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren-Mercedes +50.672

7 J Button (GB) Renault +51.229; 8 M Salo (Fin) Toyota +69.425; 9 A McNish (GB) Toyota +59.718; 10 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR +1 lap; 11 H-H Frentzen (Ger) Arrows-Cosworth +2 laps; 12 M Webber (Aus) Minardi +2.

Not classified (did not finish):

J Trulli (It) Renault 44 laps completed; A Yoong (Malay) Minardi-Asiatech 42; E Irvine (GB) Jaguar 38; N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber-Petronas 27; T Sato (Japan) Jordan-Honda 26; O Panis (Fr) BAR-Honda 22; F Massa (Br) Sauber-Petronas 7; K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes 5; E Bernoldi (Br) Arrows-Cosworth 2; P de la Rosa (Sp) Jaguar 0.

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