Sunday June 24th, 2001
There can be a wafer thin line between success and failure, as Ralf Schumacher bitterly discovered on Sunday. Without the penalty inflicted on him for crossing the white strip at the end of the pitlane, the younger sibling of motor racing's most famous family might have defeated Michael for the second time in as many races in the European Grand Prix.
Instead Ralf ended up fourth in his Williams while Michael paraded to victory in his Ferrari after the much-anticipated battle of the brothers before their home fans evaporated in controversial fashion.
"The whole race makes me furious," said Ralf, who rushed into his team's motorhome after the race with a grim look on his face. "First I was the fastest at the start, then there was that pitlane disaster, without which I could have won the race."
The Williams driver started beside his familiar rival on the front row and chased the tail of the leading Ferrari, twice attempting to squeeze past. It was the perfect scenario for the 150,000 supporters basking in the heat on a gorgeous day at the Nurburgring as another Schumacher one-two, after Ralf beat Michael into second place in Montreal two weeks ago, seemed to be on the cards.
But then the two pitted together on the 28th lap and, as they left, with Michael ahead, Ralf illegally crossed the white line. A short inquiry followed and, 12 laps later, he had to return to the pits, this time for a 10-second stop-go penalty which dropped him to fourth - his final placing, 33.345 seconds behind his brother.
"I was concentrating more on the traffic than on the line," Ralf said. Michael called the penalty which destroyed his brother's race a "hard decision."
But BMW motorsport director Gerhard Berger, who tried his best to calm Ralf after the race, said the sanction was correct.
"Rules are rules and you have to respect them," he said. "Ralf did make a mistake."
The clash nearly ended in a nightmare for the two brothers long before the pitlane incident as, just after the start, Michael appeared to leave his line, pushing Ralf's Williams dramatically close to the wall at a circuit where both collided at the first corner in 1997.
"Ralf wasn't as close to the wall as it may have seemed on television," said Willi Weber, who is the manager of both Ralf and Michael. "You can't really judge an incident like this one unless you're sitting in the car. Michael defended his line, which is only normal."
Ralf soon recovered to sit behind Michael's Ferrari, and waited for an opportunity to overtake until the two leaders chose the same moment for their first pitstop.
"It is really unfortunate that the two pitted together," said Weber, who would have loved to see his two proteges fill the first two spots once again.
"It would probably have been very, very close," said Michael after extending his lead on the drivers' standings and moving just two wins away from Alain Prost's all-time record of 51. "We will never know who would have won."