Tuesday June 26th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Ralf Schumacher defended older brother Michael's driving on Tuesday and insisted there was no rift between them after a controversial start to Sunday's European Grand Prix.
"Yes, of course," Ralf said when asked in an interview whether everything was fine between him and Ferrari's three-time Formula One world champion. "I'm now looking forward to the next duel in France, hopefully with a better outcome for me. That's what I told Michael on the phone as well," he said in the interview made available by Williams to Reuters.
The Williams driver was upset and avoided the media Sunday after been given a taste of Michael's determination on the track and then suffering a 10-second stop-go penalty for a basic mistake that ended his hopes of winning. Ralf had started alongside Michael on the front row but the Ferrari driver, knowing that the Williams was likely to pull away if it got past, made sure he kept his lead into the first corner by veering across the track.
Faced with the choice of colliding with Michael, hitting a concrete wall or backing off, Ralf opted for the safe choice.
"That kind of thing isn't exactly very pleasant for the person on the receiving end," Ralf said. "But he was just defending his position, as he did later on in the race as well. I would have done exactly the same in his situation.
"Michael has always driven really hard, but never unfairly, on the Nurburgring. I know his driving style and he knows mine. We have to live with that. We're just not prepared to give anything away."
Ralf made clear, however, that he had not forgiven race officials at the Nurburgring for the penalty imposed after he crossed the white line dividing the pitlane exit from the main straight following his first stop. The transgression pushed him down from second place, where he had been challenging Michael hard for the lead, to fourth and effectively killed off an entertaining duel just as it was hotting up.
Asked whether he had managed to cool off now, Ralf replied: "Not entirely. I just think that imposing a 10-second penalty for crossing the white line at the pitlane exit was over the top. Sure, rules are rules and every driver has to respect them. But penalties should make sense. The white line is there to prevent cars leaving the pitlane from endangering others.
"There was no way I was a hazard to anybody because there was nobody on the start/finish straight as I was coming out of the pitlane. So I think it's a pity the officials handed me such a harsh penalty and not others who made the same mistake. I think it deprived the fans of an exciting duel for first place."
Sunday's race at the Nurburgring was the second in a row with the two Schumachers on the front row of the grid. In Canada, Ralf beat Michael in a straight fight for the first time. The Williams driver, who has won two races this season and celebrates his 26th birthday Saturday, is again a real contender for victory in the French Grand Prix at Magny-Cours this Sunday.
Williams have won at the track more times than any other team, although Michael Schumacher has also won there more than any driver, and it is a home circuit for French tire supplier Michelin.