Brawn accusation threatens to overshadow title climax

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The church bells rang in Maranello the way that they always do on a Sunday evening, but for the first time since July they were last weekend celebrating a Grand Prix victory by Ferrari.

Such are the stakes of today's game that a fortnight without a win is bad news. And the drubbing Ferrari got in Hungary three weeks ago, when Michael Schumacher was an embarrassed and lapped eighth, was a disaster that did not escape vitriolic mention by the merciless Italian media.

Whether Sunday's stylish victory for Schumacher was the product of a genuine leap forward by Ferrari, the corollary of Michelin having to modify its tyres in the wake of Ferrari's complaints about their tread width, or simply the failure of the Williams team's calculated gamble to run a little more downforce than Ferrari on this high-speed track, will probably only become clear in Indianapolis in a fortnight's time. But the 2003 title fight will go down to the wire if Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen keep finishing races the way they have been doing lately.

The astonishing reliability of the Ferraris and the Williamses, in particular, beggars belief when you consider that their 10-cylinder engines are revving at 19,000rpm. While the racing might have been dull there, the event itself was a stunning advertisement for the technology of the sport and further endorsement of why major car manufacturers see benefit in pumping so much investment into Formula One.

There may be trouble ahead, however. Deep waters swirl beneath the bridge of the gripping 2003 title chase. While Ferrari throw accusations at Michelin, and by implication sworn rivals Williams and McLaren, others allege that Ferrari and Bridgestone have not been whiter than white themselves. Most are smart enough not to let their temperaments and emotions get the better of them, but Ferrari's technical director Ross Brawn may yet have cause to regret intemperate remarks allegedly made to a reporter from Autosport, in which he was quoted as claiming clear impropriety by his rivals. Brawn did not retract the alleged remarks during a heated press conference in Monza at the weekend, and rumours grow that Michelin, incensed by them, are seriously considering issuing a writ for slander.

Sporting director Jean Todt, widely seen as the architect of the stunning upsurge in Ferrari's status and success since joining in 1993, told journalists after Sunday's race that he had until 31 October to make any form of protest they might consider against previous 2003 results, in light of the Michelin allegations.

It is unthinkable that the series could be concluded in Japan on 12 October, only to have its outcome overturned in law courts months later. After all the progress Formula One has made this year to rebuild an image tarnished by Ferrari's team orders stance during their runaway success in 2002, that could be catastrophic. Most likely, both sides are rattling these sabres to keep the other feeling uncomfortable. We should hope so.

When Schumacher was told he had beaten Peter Gethin's 32-year-old record for the fastest Grand Prix he demonstrated his usual disdain for history with the throwaway remark: "Was I born then?" Hopefully, others will follow wise counsel and refrain from doing anything in the pursuit of victory at all costs that might put more of the sport's historic credibility in jeopardy.

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