Silverstone's lifeless parade exposes illusion of competition

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The Independent Online

In both the language and the performance of Michael Schumacher there is no longer any place for Formula One to hide. The illusion that it is doing any more than stage the most expensive processions since the old Red Square parades of ballistic rocketry, is as shredded as an old tyre.

In both the language and the performance of Michael Schumacher there is no longer any place for Formula One to hide. The illusion that it is doing any more than stage the most expensive processions since the old Red Square parades of ballistic rocketry, is as shredded as an old tyre.

Of course Formula One continues to talk up the drama. What else can it do? It can hardly say that if Jarno Trulli's Renault hadn't fallen apart on the 41st lap and brought out the trundling safety car Schumacher's 10th victory of the season - out of 11 races - in yesterday's British Grand Prix would have had all the inherent drama of rush-hour on the M25.

Trulli's mishap knocked a minimum of 20 seconds off the margin of Schumacher's triumph and led to desperate talk of second-placed Kimi Raikkonen's McLaren-Mercedes team launching a significant rally in the second half of this most lopsided of seasons. Sadly, though, that's all it was, transparently desperate talk, and McLaren's boss Ron Dennis was honest enough to agree. "Second is first among the losers," he reminded us.

Schumacher underlined the inescapable when he said that his Ferrari went so well it was "phenomenal", and that after the light-running McLaren had gone in for its first fuel stop, and he unleashed a cluster of laps which touched geometric perfection, "it was just a matter of controlling it". He was equally candid when asked to dress up the final stages of a race that was effectively over when Trulli crashed off the course. "It was tight in a couple of areas," said the maestro, "but not too tight."

No indeed. All week Formula One had hyped up Silverstone's possibilities. Britain's young hero Jenson Button was going to make a run for his maiden stride to the top of the podium. McLaren were poised for the counter-attack after Raikkonen's dazzling claim on pole position. The realities were predictably different.

Despite major injections of cash, Button's BAR-Honda team are still miles away from challenging Ferrari, whose technical director Ross Brawn is beginning to complain about the cost of celebration luncheons for the workers at the Marinello factory. Raikkonen's pole position was much less awe-inspiring when it became clear that Schumacher, having deliberately spun his car, then gone slow in the first qualifying session, had made his final run loaded with fuel.

All of this converged into the usual pattern of absolute Ferrari mastery right up to the moment Trulli introduced the element which had almost been forgotten, the unpredictable, the incalculable, the circumstance that can never be downloaded from the banks of computers which blink away now in even the most impoverished corners of the pit lane.

Even then, Ferrari's resources were enough to nail down a reasonably satisfactory first and third place.

How is it, one interrogator wanted to know of Brawn, that Schumacher always emerges from his pit stops with clear track in front of him and, generally speaking, the lead. As inscrutable as some old mandarin, Brawn said that Ferrari had their ways and means, and it was wonderful to give the great man the chance to show how uniquely good he is.

Brawn said we should enjoy Schumacher while he lasts because we are not likely to see any such dominance ever again. Maybe not. But if Schumacher is a wonder, he is one with far more technical underpinning than is good for any notion of an evenly balanced sport. Formula One apologists were quick to list the positives of yesterday's race: notably the exceptional driving of such as Giancarlo Fisichella and Fernando Alonso as they fought their way through the field. Someone had counted as many as 25 overtaking manoeuvres. Unfortunately those manoeuvres came more or less exclusively in the middle of a cluttered pack.

Out at the front, it was the same old business: victory not by nerve but unbeatable race control by pit-stop and mechanical perfection. This doesn't diminish the extraordinary ability, even genius, of Michael Schumacher. But it does drive home again the point that Formula One is so reluctant to accept. You cannot stage any kind of Red parade and expect it to be seen as a branch of competitive sport.

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