Thursday August 30th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Ferrari and Michael Schumacher are ready to reward Rubens Barrichello for services rendered. But how far will they go now that Schumacher has won his fourth Formula One Championship with four races to spare?
The German has said he wants to help his Brazilian teammate, currently third overall, secure second place in the Championship. But Schumacher also stands on the cusp of history, having just equalled Alain Prost's record of 51 victories in Hungary this month.
He can certainly be expected to allow Barrichello past if neither Ferrari is in a position to win, since points matter little to him now. But helping the Brazilian actually to take the chequered flag might be harder, assuming that he finds himself in a position to do that with McLaren and Williams pushing hard.
It would not be an unreasonable assumption to expect Schumacher to want his record-breaking 52nd win in the bag before anyone else gets a look in. And even after that, there could be problems.
One, experienced by champions such as Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell in the past, is how to pay back teammates without detracting from their efforts.
A decade ago, at the 1991 Japanese Grand Prix, Senna slowed at the last corner and let his surprised McLaren teammate Gerhard Berger go through to win. The pair crossed the line almost side by side, waving to each other down the straight, but Senna left no doubts about who was the master.
"He has done a lot of work for me and that is why, for the first time in my career, when I had the chance I let Gerhard go through to win," said the Brazilian, who clinched his third title that day, afterwards.
"Giving way was a small gesture to Gerhard who had helped me a lot in the past. But I mean a small gesture because he was as fast as me today."
Mansell tried something similar after he had won the title in 1992, slowing to let Williams teammate Riccardo Patrese through early in the Italian's home race at Monza. But the Briton then made sure the fans knew he had acted deliberately, "riding shotgun" right behind Patrese's car until technical troubles prevented either from winning.
"Patrese, humiliated in front of his home crowd, never forgot it," recalled Autosport columnist Nigel Roebuck in his book "Chasing The Title".
Barrichello, like any racing driver, has his pride and insisted when he joined Ferrari that he was no mere number two to the German. That notion vanished quickly enough but he was still visibly seething when forced to obey team orders and allow the champion past in Austria this year.
If Schumacher repays the favour, and it will be Ferrari's decision as much as his, it would be a rare gesture by the German but not unprecedented. Schumacher could already have broken the 51-win mark had he not twice moved over while leading the 1999 Malaysian Grand Prix to allow teammate Eddie Irvine to triumph.
The difference then was that the Northern Irishman was Ferrari's Championship contender while Schumacher's hopes had been ended by a broken leg in a crash at Silverstone earlier that year. But the gesture still produced one of the year's memorable quotes, a comment by Irvine that Barrichello might find himself repeating in the coming weeks.
"Michael is not only the best number one, but the best number two as well."
Published at 15:45:31 GMT