Schumacher unrepentant in feud with Montoya

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The Independent Online

The legendary champion Juan Manuel Fangio once told Ayrton Senna during a visit to Adelaide for the Australian Grand Prix: "You are a great driver, but you are not yet a great champion." In the time left to him, Senna took that to heart and did his best to abide by Fangio's maxim: "You must always try to be the best, but you should never believe that you are."

The legendary champion Juan Manuel Fangio once told Ayrton Senna during a visit to Adelaide for the Australian Grand Prix: "You are a great driver, but you are not yet a great champion." In the time left to him, Senna took that to heart and did his best to abide by Fangio's maxim: "You must always try to be the best, but you should never believe that you are."

One wonders what words Fangio might have spoken to Michael Schumacher on Sunday, after the sport's No 1 driver appeared to shoot himself in the foot after clashing yet again with a lapped Juan Pablo Montoya, of BMW-Williams, while they were running behind the safety car. Schumacher was leading but only because, of his main rivals, Jarno Trulli had made his final pit stop, and a crash by the other Ranult driver, Fernando Alonso, had necessitated deployment of the safety car.

Schumacher and Montoya, not surprisingly, had widely divergent views on culpability. The two have clashed several times since Montoya laid a marker down with an audacious pass on Schumacher in the 2001 Brazilian Grand Prix.

It took Ferrari almost four hours to decide their media line on the incident, and Schumacher confined himself to a put-down by suggesting that he had been pushed off by "a backmarker". Montoya publicly confined himself to his version of the facts. After another clash in the recent San Marino GP at Imola in April, however, he said: "Michael has always done these manoeuvres and he gets away with them. What he did to me at Imola was the same as he did to Alonso on lap one at Silverstone last year. The rules have got to be the same for everybody - it doesn't matter if you are called Michael Schumacher, if you drive for Ferrari or anything. We should be racing on a level playing field."

So what did Schumacher do? He braked hard, which drivers are entitled to do when they run behind the safety car, because otherwise the slow speed leaves the brakes so cool that they lack initial bite when used for the first time once racing resumes. It was how he did it that drew criticism. By braking hard enough to lock the left front wheel in the tunnel (he claimed the safety car slowed abruptly but television evidence did not tend to support that), he obliged Montoya to take avoiding action, and then appeared to chop back across the Colombian's bows. Since there was a wall holding up a hotel to the right of the Williams, Montoya had nowhere to go and they collided.

It is not the first time such tactics from Schumacher have caused an accident. At Monza in 2000 he did the same thing, causing Jacques Villeneuve, Ralf Schumacher and Giancarlo Fisichella to take sudden evasive action and the rookie Jenson Button to crash.

"I blame Michael for what happened," Button said then. "He came very slowly out of Ascari corner, then accelerated so that everyone spread out. But then he braked again [on the straight] and the cars concertinaed. I thought you weren't allowed to do that. When Jacques braked again as Michael had, Ralf and Giancarlo went either side of him and I had nowhere to go so I had to take to the grass to avoid hitting them. In doing that I just about missed a marshal who was stood out on the circuit."

On that occasion Schumacher apologised after the race. "I was doing that to warm up my brakes and I thought everyone expected me to do that," he said. "I'm sorry if I caused any problem for the cars behind." There was no apology this time for Montoya.

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