No fairytale ending for the brothers grim

Schumachers carry their fight on to the Nurburgring.
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The Independent Online

When you're having a bad day at the office, it helps to have things you can count on. So when you find you can no longer rely on them, proceedings can become a little fraught. Ask Michael Schumacher. Or brother Ralf. Time was, each could depend on the other, but that no longer seems to be the case.

As bad days at the office go, Barcelona came pretty high on Michael's list. His first pole position of the season gave him the perfect opportunity to make one of his karate-chop moves on Mika Hakkinen at the start of last weekend's Spanish GP. But even before the subsequent incident in the pits, when he ran over Ferrari's chief mechanic, Nigel Stepney, it was clear that he had backed the wrong horse.

Alone among the front-runners, and against the tyre manufacturer's recommendations, he had opted for Bridgestone's harder-compound rubber. Hakkinen, chasing hard in second place, sus- pected early on that it was only a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to make his move as the Ferrari began to slide around more and more as its rubber lost its edge. And he was right. Schumacher held on to a fragile lead until the second stop, where the problems of the first caught up with him as deputy refueller Andrea Vaccari struggled with the nozzle coupling. Hakkinen, who had pitted at the same time, was long gone.

Schumacher's subsequent rebuff of David Coulthard's initial attack was nothing more than we have come to expect, but what he would later do to younger brother Ralf was something of a surprise. Yet, when you have always been able to rely on the fact that you are quicker than your baby brother, finding him alongside challenging for your position can be a trifle embarrassing.

In F1's history of racing siblings it has often been the younger brother who has turn-ed out to be the quicker. Great though the Mexican racer Pedro Rodriguez would undoubtedly become, his younger brother Ricardo was the star in the making until cut down early by his youthful blend of enthusiasm and blind courage.

Emerson Fittipaldi was likewise faster than older brother Wilson, and won two World Championships to prove it. Everyone remembers Jody Scheckter as the 1979 champ-ion (Ferrari's last), but who but diehard fans recall brother Ian? And the name Jacques Villeneuve means to most the 1997 champion and current BAR Honda hotshoe, rather than the great Gilles Ville-neuve's younger brother.

Ralf Schumacher is highly rated, but Michael is still the star. Nevertheless, Ralf's move to pass Michael on the 50th lap ignited the latter's latent aggression.

Ralf dived inside Michael in a left-hander. Michael refused to give way. In a great bit of racing they ran side by side to the next right-hander, where Michael appeared deliberately to run Ralf so wide that they made contact, allowing Michael's Ferrari team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, to pass inside both to take third place. Prior to that, he had been unable to make a move on Ralf.

Michael made light of it all, initially. "As for the move with my brother," he said, "all I can say is that racing is racing."

But after a while the old Schumacher peeped through, the man who pushed Damon Hill out of the 1994 World Championship, and tried to do the same to Jacques Ville- neuve three years later. "If Ralf wanted a fight," he said trenchantly, "then he got one."

Both Schumachers have sufficient arrogance at times to make Prince Naseem Hamed appear positively self-effacing, but even by Michael's elevated standards this was breath-taking stuff.

Ralf was less than amused. In true F1 fashion he refused to admit there was any dirty laundry, hiding behind a banal quote. "I would prefer to watch the video of Barrichello overtaking me before saying anything more about this manoeuvre," he said.

But after the race the brothers met on the neutral ground of chef Karl-Heinz Zimmerman's motorhome, and their words were sharp. They traded views for more than 20 minutes before leaving in different directions. Father Rolf, who had come to watch both, was left bemused and wondering which to follow.

Ironically, just before the race Michael Schumacher had admitted in a television interview with Martin Brundle that what he had done to Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997 was wrong.

Round two will play in Germany next weekend, when the brothers grim compete at home in the Grand Prix of Europe at the Nürburgring. It could hardly be a worse place to go in the circumstances. Though Ralf has largely been a clean fighter as he has climbed the ladder, the new Nürburgring was the scene of one of his celebrated mishaps back in 1997, when his enthusiasm ran away with him at the first corner.

That time he landed atop Michael's Ferrari, and cost him the world championship.