Thursday June 28th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
The Schumachers have presented a united front looking relaxed and insisting there had been no brotherly bust-up at last weekend's European Formula One Grand Prix.
But Williams's Ralf, forced to back off at the start after older brother Michael steered him towards a wall at the Nurburgring, made it clear on Thursday - ahead of Sunday's French Grand Prix - that he was still upset with officials.
And he pointed a finger at Ferrari by suggesting that his sibling's team had drawn attention during the race to the later error that wrecked his chances of winning. Ralf had been fighting triple Formula One champion Michael for the lead on Sunday when they both made pit stops. As he resumed the race, the Williams driver illegally crossed a white line dividing the track from the pitlane.
The stewards later imposed a 10-second stop-go penalty which dropped Ralf from second to fourth, where he finished the race. Reports after the race suggested the 25-year-old confronted Michael, who now leads Briton David Coulthard by 24 points in the championship, about the veering start.
But both insisted it was the time sanction and not the start that had caused the post-race friction.
"Ralf was quite upset about the 10-econd stop and go penalty because he felt that this decision was a very hard one and I can only agree," Michael told a news conference.
Ralf later told reporters in the Williams motorhome that he had gone to congratulate his brother after the race but also "to have a little discussion about the fact that I got penalised for a white line and that his team sent in an e-mail as well."
Pressed on that matter, Ralf added: "There was another team that told on me, yes. But I have heard that (FIA race director) Charlie Whiting saw it (the incident) as well."
The German said he had avoided the media deliberately after Sunday's race at the Nurburgring because he was so angry about the white line incident.
"Criticism of something the FIA people have decided is not very welcome. It's not a good thing, especially after a race when you're still not too happy with something, to comment on it. That's why I took this decision," he said.
Williams are heavily favoured to win in Magny-Cours on Sunday and Ralf, who said earlier in the week that he would have acted in the same way as Michael, was asked whether he would back off again another time. He did not answer the question clearly but said that on Sunday he had "thought it was better to move back to avoid any problems, accidents whatever at that time because I wanted to keep my place."
Michael said he sympathised with Ralf.
"I've been very unhappy with people who did the same to me and when you're behind, you're always the person who is unhappy," he said. "In front you feel totally okay. That's the way it is. We don't have a particular problem with this. We talk about things and perhaps they're pretty clear. We race for different companies and we have to maximise the opportunities.
"We have to use the rules in whatever way they allow us to until a certain point, obviously, and he's quite happy with that."
The Ferrari driver, whose victory at the Nurburgring was his fifth in nine races this season, expected the brotherly battles to continue on the track. And he added that he would be delighted even if Ralf prevented him from winning the title next year.
"As you know, I have achieved quite a lot and I will be very happy to see my brother doing very well," he said.
Published at 17:35:01 GMT