Monday June 25th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Brotherly love was tested to the limit at Sunday's European Grand Prix but the victorious Michael Schumacher did offer one consolation to his unhappy sibling Ralf.
Ferrari's triple Formula One world champion suggested Ralf and his Williams teammate Juan Pablo Montoya had now replaced McLaren as Ferrari's most dangerous rivals for race wins if not the championship.
"It looks like it," the German said when asked if he considered "the boys in white and blue" to be the main threat to the red colours of Ferrari. "David (Coulthard) just mentioned that somewhere they (McLaren) are losing out a bit and we don't know when they are going to fix it," added Schumacher of his title challenger who left the Nurburgring 24 points adrift of the German.
"Until then it is probably a white/blue-red battle."
Williams's main failing has been reliability, with only four finishes in their drivers' combined 16 starts prior to Sunday, but that looked far more encouraging in Germany with both the BMW-powered cars scoring points. Ralf, who won the last race in Canada, came in fourth after challenging Michael for the lead until he suffered a 10-second stop-go penalty for crossing the white line dividing the pitlane exit from the circuit straight.
Montoya finished second for the second time this year. Coulthard was third and teammate Mika Hakkinen sixth.
Ralf was also on the receiving end of one of Michael's characteristically uncompromising starts, with the Ferrari veering across to slam the door on the Williams. That single gesture showed that, however much the two brothers enjoy racing each other, Michael retains his ruthless streak and will not let anyone get between him and his goals.
"We drive very close to the edge as you have to do," he commented. "I would do this to anyone, honestly, and he doesn't give presents to me either."
Williams have now been first or second for two races in succession and in four of the last six Grands Prix. McLaren, who remain comfortably second in the championship, have been in the top two just twice in the last six races, partly due to bad luck and technical problems. Both McLaren and Williams have two wins apiece compared to Ferrari's five.
"I think we're ahead of the McLaren a little bit at the moment, it's a bit surprising to be honest," said Montoya. "We're getting consistently up at the front so it's definitely getting better," added the Colombian whose race was marked by a calmness not seen in his last two outings.
"I thought just take it easy and get to the end," he declared, despite setting the fastest lap and claiming the race lap record.
In Monaco, the Colombian crashed and also in Canada, where he had a bust up with Canadian Jacques Villeneuve before the race that earned him widespread censure.
"You know, the critics don't matter to me to be honest," he said with a smile after going some way to restoring his image as Formula One's next big thing.
"In the last two races I made pretty silly mistakes and gave away quite a lot of points and we had quite a lot of reliability problems in the beginning of the year but things are getting much better now."
It was left to Austrian Gerhard Berger, the former Ferrari and McLaren driver who now works with Williams as BMW motorsport head, to voice a note of caution.
"I wouldn't underestimate McLaren because they know their business, it can turn around very quickly. I think racing, especially Formula One, is unpredictable. You find yourself in a very good position and two races later the position has maybe changed again. I think we are strong, this weekend we showed that also on medium speed circuits we can be competitive.
"But still I think we are going to have races where McLaren are in a dominating position," said Berger.
As Coulthard said on Sunday, the championship is not decided until it is decided - even if Michael Schumacher has only once finished outside the top two in his last 15 races.