Thursday March 15th, 2001
By Alan Baldwin
Michael Schumacher accused fellow-German Heinz-Harald Frentzen of bringing Formula One into disrepute on Thursday after the Jordan driver cast suspicion on Ferrari's engines.
The triple world champion, who got Ferrari off to a winning start to the season in Australia this month with his fifth successive victory, suggested Frentzen should keep quiet.
"He should concentrate on his own car and his own performance and not say the others do something wrong," Schumacher told a team news conference ahead of Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix.
"Basically I think he puts Formula One into quite a lot of dispute.
"If he feels there is something strange he has the right to make a protest to clarify it.
"Just to make a rumour like he does brings the sport into a lot of disrepute and bad criticism.
Frentzen created a stir last week when he posted a note on his website about the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.
The German finished fifth in that race, sandwiched between the Ferrari-engined Saubers of compatriot Nick Heidfeld and Finnish debutant Kimi Raikkonen.
Frentzen said that although he had managed to catch Heidfeld quite quickly, passing him was another matter.
"I don't know if traction control comes as a factory option with Ferrari engines," he said. "But every time I got close in a slower corner, he would pull away under acceleration which was strange as I could hear the engine misfiring."
Traction control and other electronic "driver aids" have been outlawed since the end of 1993 but the ruling International Automobile Federation (FIA) has agreed to allow the systems back from this year's Spanish Grand Prix in April.
One of the main reasons for the change in policy has been the FIA's admission that the systems are too complex to police.
Frentzen clarified his remarks in a subsequent note on his website that pulled away from any outright suggestion of cheating.
But he said he had noticed a phenomenon whenever he trailed behind a Ferrari-powered car over the past 18 races and was convinced Ferrari had some special engine software.
Schumacher said Frentzen should take back his words.
"To make this stupid comment is completely unfair, he should rethink what he is saying," said the champion.
"I know he does not say it is illegal but then he has to say that we have done a very good job, not say that it is dubious what we are doing."
"Everyone at Ferrari is very unhappy, all the tifosi (fans) are unhappy because we not only have a very good engine but we have two very good drivers."
While Schumacher was ready to slam Frentzen, a former teammate from sportscar days, he refused an opportunity to criticise Canadian Jacques Villeneuve for the crash at Melbourne that left a race marshal dead.
Villeneuve's BAR collided with the Williams of Schumacher's brother Ralf, who said afterwards: "I think Jacques overrated himself a bit, just like last year in Canada when he again ran into my car."
The Canadian has been a regular critic of Michael's driving tactics since the German drove into his Williams at the end of the 1997 season, a collision that could have won the title for the German but instead ensured it went to Villeneuve.
"He has criticised me in the past but I will not now take the opportunity to hit back," said Schumacher.
"Sauber can Win"
Schumacher also said Sauber were among the teams most likely to win a race this season.
"You don't yet know the full potential of the likes of Sauber, Jordan and so on, but I think they will win races this year," the world champion said.
"Somebody would have to retire or some special circumstance has to happen, this is very clear," he added. "McLaren and Ferrari will be difficult to beat on the circuit unless they do something wrong.
"But yes, I feel it is possible (for Sauber to win). They will certainly be on the podium this year."
Schumacher also commented, on that opportunity, on the much publicised settlement he had reached with helmet makers "Bell", following which the German will be wearing the Schuberth helmet this weekend.
"We have settled our dispute with Bell and I'm quite happy to work now with Schuberth," the Ferrari driver told a team news conference. "I am happy to go racing with them now."