Montoya eyes victory as Jordan takes flak

German Grand Prix: Colombian and local hero Ralf Schumacher give Williams team their first top billing
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was the McLaren chief, Ron Dennis, who welcomed Eddie Jordan to what he called "The Piranha Club" – Formula One – back in 1991 when the Irishman's team made their debut in Phoenix, Arizona.

Since then, Jordan has proved an astute student, learning his lessons the hard way. Last Wednesday, the world discovered just how much those lessons had been taken to heart when Jordan announced he had sacked his driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen after a disappointing performance in the British Grand Prix. This weekend's race in Germany would have been Frentzen's home event, but sentiment and sympathy come in small measures in this high-speed roulette game.

As Frentzen sat at his home in Monaco, pondering a potentially bleak future and the legal action he is bringing against Jordan, Jordan himself was taking the flak not just from a disappointed German crowd but also from most of the people in the paddock. They felt that sacking Frentzen as the scapegoat for the team's poor season was like blaming the man who stoked the engines for the disaster that befell the Titanic. Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher, the crowd's traditional favourite, was learning what it felt like to play second fiddle in their affections to his kid brother, Ralf.

Not so many years ago, the Piranha Club and the millions of fans across the globe who follow its every move, were growing a little tired of the domination by Sir Frank Williams's team. That was then, and this is now.

Today, the sight of two BMW Williamses qualified on the front row of the grid is something to savour, a first for the British team's alliance with the German car maker. On BMW's home ground the blue and white cars destroyed their opposition, and though Juan Pablo Montoya fractionally shaded the local hero Ralf to take the first pole position of his Formula One career, they were prepared to be tolerant.

Ralf set the pace initially, claiming the fastest times in each of the three sectors that make up the 6.823 kilometres. But Montoya squeezed ahead by the scant margin of 0.019sec after setting the best times for the first and third sectors. Schumacher subsequently regained the honours in the first sector, but his overall lap was not quite quick enough.

No big deal. A year ago it would have been a cause for angst, but these days he is a calm individual. Such is his confidence that he was able to shrug philosophically and focus on what he will do in the race this afternoon. "Everybody worked so hard for this," Montoya said. "This proves again we have the right package."

In their wake, the BMW Williamses left McLaren and Ferrari trailing. Partly this is because BMW's engines have more horsepower. This does not mean the cars were fastest on Hockenheim's long straights – that accolade fell to Mika Hakkinen's McLaren Mercedes at 359kph – but it did enable them to run more wing for greater speed through the three chicanes and the stadium section that ends the lap, without a straightline speed penalty.

Hockenheim is a punishing track for engines. They run at full throttle in top gear for 16 seconds on the first straight, then for around 10 and 15 seconds on the two that follow the chicanes which break up the high-speed flow. In the dry, that equates to 60 to 70 per cent of the lap, taken at engine speeds of around 18,000rpm – or 300 revs every second.

The broiling temperatures – the track reached 41C at one point – favoured the BMW Williamses' Michelin tyres, too. Hakkinen, evenly matched once more with his arch-rival Michael Schumacher, was six-tenths of a second off Montoya's pace. The Ferrari was another tenth slower than that. David Coulthard and Rubens Barrichello, their respective team-mates, were slower still.

Hakkinen believed that small changes made throughout the hour-long session rendered his McLaren the best car he had ever driven at Hockenheim, but it was not enough. Schumacher admitted that the BMW Williamses were simply out of reach, but took consolation from starting ahead of title rival Coulthard, who struggled to balance his car.

Behind them, the Sauber Petronas cars of Nick Heidfeld and Kimi Raikkonen again qualified easily in the top 10, undermining the hopes which Jaguar had entertained after a strong showing the previous day.

With high temperatures again predicted for the race, it may simply come down to which BMW Williams driver makes the better start, assuming that their cars remain reliable. Montoya senses that his first Formula One victory is imminent, while success would further cement Ralf Schumacher's status in his homeland.

Though winning is hardly likely to come as easy as at Silverstone for Mika Hakkinen, the Finn's new contract with McLaren is a formality. The fact that Jacques Villeneuve and Olivier Panis have been confirmed as BAR-Honda drivers for 2002 is a sure sign that Hakkinen will not be retiring, which was a possibility up until he turned the corner in a bad season with his British triumph.

And Jordan? Jarno Trulli initially held seventh place, before his hopes went up in the cloud of oil smoke emitted by his Honda engine. And Frentzen's replacement, the Brazilian driver Ricardo Zonta, struggled to 15th place, almost a second off his team-mate.

Somewhere, Frentzen might have been smiling in quiet satisfaction. But the truth is that the German is too mild-mannered to draw consolation from the misfortunes of the team for whom he won two races in an upbeat 1999 season. Not all the fish in the piranha pool have razor-sharp teeth, but only those who do tend to survive.

Starting Grid

1 J P Montoya (Col) Williams 1min 38.117sec

2 R Schumacher (Ger) Williams 1:38.136

3 M Hakkinen (Fin) McLaren 1:38.811

4 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1:38.941

5 D Coulthard (GB) McLaren 1:39.574

6 R Barrichello (Br) Ferrari 1:39.682

7 N Heidfeld (Ger) Sauber 1:39.921

8 K Raikkonen (Fin) Sauber 1:40.072

9 P de la Rosa (Sp) Jaguar 1:40.265

10 J Trulli (It) Jordan 1:40.322

11 E Irvine (GB) Jaguar 1:40.371

12 J Villeneuve (Can) BAR 1:40.437

13 O Panis (Fr) BAR 1:40.610

14 J Alesi (Fr) Prost 1:40.724,

15 R Zonta (Br) Jordan 1:41.174

16 L Burti (Br) Prost 1:41.213

17 G Fisichella (It) Benetton 1:41.299

18 J Button (GB) Benetton 1:41.438

19 E Bernoldi (Br) Arrows 1:41.668

20 J Verstappen (Hol) Arrows 1:41.870

21 F Alonso (Sp) Minardi 1:41.913

22 T Marques (Br) Minardi 1:42.716.