Much brouhaha erupted when the Ferrari team scripted a couple
of races last year, even having the temerity to try and engineer a dead-heat.
This, the world was told by many sporting journalists, had brought motor racing
into disrepute. I did not join the baying throng because I have a very long
memory. While doing some other research I came across another example of race
fixing, but nobody appeared to remember this one - it was the Le Mans 24 hour
race of 1966, with the Ford Team GT40’s very comfortably leading. Ken Miles
and Denny Hulme had led for hours and Chris Amon and Bruce McLaren were second.
To maximise the effect of this crushing defeat of Ferrari, the FoMoCo executives
decided that a dead heat was the answer. The organizers agreed too, so the
drivers were called in and told to stage a dead heat across the line.
While they were out on the track for the final few laps
(remember this is before pit to car radio) the French organizers changed their
minds and said that if the cars were side by side across the finish line, the
Amon/McLaren car which started further down the grid than the Miles/Hulme car,
would have actually travelled a few metres further in the 24 hours, so it would
be declared the winner.
So what did the Ford race team do? They decided not to tell
Ken Miles, as he was not their most popular driver, and so the planned ‘dead
heat” ended up with the EnZedders Amon and McLaren winning the 1966 Le Mans.
Was there an outcry? Was there thump!
So why is there such an outcry today, with the FIA apparently “banning”
stage managed finishes this year? Let me assure you it has nothing to do with
motor “sport”. The answer is called ‘off track betting’, where much
money is wagered on who will win the different Grands Prix. So it has nothing to
do with race team managers deciding who will win the race, but has everything to
do with who will win the money in the sweepstake!
What kind of a man is Michael Schumacher?
As regular readers will know, whilst I have always been
impressed with the talent of Michael Schumacher, I have always been less than
impressed with the man himself. I felt that he was arrogant and was not beneath
doing a few dirty tricks to stay on the top of the heap - his efforts in
crashing with Damon Hill and Jacques Villeneuve a few years back are not
However, I recently met an FIA official (who was here to do
the track inspection of the Bira Circuit - it passed, by the way) who had sat in
a few committee meetings with Schumacher, and who had high regard for the
Ferrari star and 5 times world champion. Like me he had been initially
unimpressed, but after being with him he had changed his opinion. Apparently
Schumacher definitely has mellowed and was clear headed in his thinking and of
much value to the committee meetings relating to the sport and safety. He did
not come over as a big-head, but was a humble man.
In a recent interview in the Observer in the UK, the
journalist wrote that Schumacher is incorrectly described as ice-cool and
unemotional. In the article, Schumacher spoke about the early days when his
family struggled to finance his career. When Schumacher was 21, he earned his
first major bonus of over 1 million baht and apparently gave it to his father,
in cash. “My family were really in debt,” he said, “so I gave my father
this suitcase full of money. He couldn’t believe it. That was something very
Schumacher went on, discussing some of the uncomplimentary
articles that have been written about him. “I’m not very comfortable with
what people sometimes say or think about me,” he said, “things I don’t
feel responsible for. They write stories about me, often to justify themselves,
without looking at how I got to win the race.”
He continued with, “I’m a pretty relaxed person, and this
makes me the way I am. People try to look for more than there is. A simple
explanation sometimes doesn’t justify the success you have. It all depends
what you feel you are. I know what I am, and what I have to do in my profession,
so I can handle the pressure. It’s the way I think.”
One factor which is probably not remembered when listening to
Schumacher respond to questions, is that English is not his native language.
Stilted expressions may even be partly explained in that way. Just how many of
us are able to reply to a press grilling in a foreign language?
The interview ended with Schumacher being asked just who he
considered to be his greatest rivals, with the journalist suggesting that it
would be Montoya, but Schumacher did not agree. “I would not focus on that
single person. My team-mate Rubens Barrichello has picked up his game quite a
lot. Then there is my brother Ralf, and Kimi Raikkonen. I would mention all of
these in the same bracket as Montoya. But the media seems to have picked out one
over the others.”
Most interesting, perhaps I will have to change my ideas too.