Schumacher may lose points over fiasco

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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher could lose the points he won by being gifted victory when team-mate Rubens Barrichello moved over in the final yards of the Austrian Grand Prix.

The German and his Ferrari team-mate Barrichello could also be banned from future races as the sport's authorities react to condemnation of Ferrari's manipulation of the result here on Sunday. The punishment could be imposed, however, not because of the team orders – which are within the rules, if against the spirit of sport – but because of what happened on the podium afterwards which is being seen as a breach of FIA procedure.

Schumacher pushed Barrichello on to the top step of the podium and handed him the winner's trophy in a victory ceremony marred by boos from the crowd. Ferrari and both drivers have been summoned to appear before the sport's governing body, FIA, on 25 June.

Everyone outside Ferrari wondered what they would do in the race and now everyone knows precisely what they will do in similar circumstances at the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday week. They will order Barrichello to let Michael Schumacher win Formula One's most prestigious event, and they will go on issuing the instruction until the German has his record-equalling fifth world championship.

Ferrari are unrepentant. Nothing personal, they maintain, it is just the business of winning. Ross Brawn, Ferrari's technical director, has contributed hugely to the team's success and his capacity for reacting calmly and logically under pressure was tested in the heated aftermath of this spectacle. He confirmed the Italian team would carry on orchestrating results for as long as necessary.

"The decision we made here will be repeated until the championship is decided," he said. "If similar circumstances arise at Monaco then Rubens knows he will be expected to allow Michael through. We don't have a preference. We all know we have to make decisions we think are best for Ferrari. Before this race Michael had 44 points, Rubens had six.

"If Rubens finds himself in a better position to win the championship next year then Michael will have to move over. If both drivers are fighting for the championship we would not take such a decision. Both drivers understand.

"Michael doesn't like Rubens letting him through. He was not entirely comfortable. He did not ask for it. This was not his decision so I don't see why it should damage his reputation."

There is, however, widespread feeling that this is a stain Schumacher and Ferrari have unnecessarily brought upon themselves. Unlike last year when Barrichello conceded second place to his team-mate here, Ferrari have scant competition this season. The greatest driver of his generation has a 27-point advantage over his closest challenger, Williams BMW's Juan Pablo Montoya.

Brawn countered: "Anything could happen this season. Michael broke his leg in 1999. We don't want to take a chance. I am sure we will take flak and I understand people making judgments.

"There is a side of me that doesn't like what we've done. It's difficult for all of us. It would have been easier to have done things differently. A decision like this is as tough as it gets."

He added: "I don't want to get involved in whatever other teams have said, but I would say that it is up to others to produce better cars and improve their performance. It's not my problem.''

David Coulthard, who twice had to give way to his former team-mate, Mika Hakkinen, offers a balanced contribution to the debate on team orders. He, like Brawn, acknowledges that it is a traditional concept in Formula One, as in other team sports that appear to be contests for individuals, such as cycling.

But he also points out that Formula One has a higher profile than ever and says: "We are a public sport and need public support, or we go downhill."

It was not unusual in the early eras of the world championship for a driver to give up not only track position but even his car to a senior team-mate. Juan Manuel Fangio enjoyed preferential treatment on his way to the landmark Schumacher now has in sight.

But Coulthard is right. We have moved on. Schumacher doesn't need this. Ferrari don't need it. Formula One doesn't need it. Ferrari argue they have commercial interests to protect, but sponsors can scarcely glean satisfaction or market clout from a sham such as this.

If it really is a risk to let Barrichello win then it is a risk worth taking. The advantages far outweigh the potential costs. Ferrari should ooze class and conviction, this year of all years. Not like this, they don't.

* Takuma Sato was released from hospital yesterday after his crash on Sunday. The 25-year-old Japanese driver suffered only soft tissue damage to his right thigh after his Jordan-Honda was hit by Nick Heidfeld's Sauber. Sato, the reigning British Formula 3 champion, was kept in the hospital in Graz for observation and is expected to be fit to race in Monaco.

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