Handbags at dawn part 2: This time it’s Williams versus Ferrari

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Williams and Ferrari are going at it again
Williams and Ferrari are going at it again

Yesterday it was Nelson Piquet Jnr vs Flavio Briatore, today it’s Ferrari and Williams at loggerheads. Infuriated by Williams’ refusal to support Schumacher’s request for a test in the F60, Ferrari published a statement on its website saying:

Guess who opposed the test with the F60? A team that hasn’t won anything for years and yet didn’t pass over the opportunity to demonstrate once more a lack of spirit of fair play.

Them’s fightin’ words. But although seeing Williams and Ferrari trade blows is nothing new in F1, there’s something rather odd about Ferrari’s reaction.

To begin with, why is it only aimed at Williams when Red Bull also opposed Schumacher testing the F60?

I wonder if this has something to do with Williams splitting from FOTA at the height of their row with the FIA earlier this year. Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo, also president of FOTA (and not above letting off a little steam in this fashion), surely hasn’t forgotten Williams’ defection which could have fatally weakened the teams’ unity.

But throwing around phrases like “a lack of spirit of fair play” is perhaps not the smartest thing for a team with Ferrari’s track record to do. Particularly when you consider their track record with Williams:

1997 European Grand Prix, Jerez

No-one’s going to forget this one in a hurry. Schumacher was leading the race and on course to beat second-placed Jacques Villeneuve to the world championship. But after the final round of pit stops the Williams driver suddenly began catching Schumacher and launched an attack at the Curva Dry Sack.

Schumacher swung in and the pair collided – but Villeneuve survived, while the Ferrari driver slid off the track and out of the race. The FIA confiscated Schumacher’s points for the season – a penalty widely regarded as far too lenient – and Ferrari hit back at Williams by claiming they had colluded with McLaren to rig the race finish.

1998 Canadian Grand Prix

When Schumacher shot out of the pits during the race he failed to notice Heinz-Harald Frentzen’s Williams on the circuit, and shoved him off into the barriers. Patrick Head stormed over to the Ferrari pit and vowed to see the driver serve a lengthy ban for reckless driving.

The stewards penalised Schumacher but he won the race nevertheless.

1999 Belgian Grand Prix

With Schumacher injured, Ferrari were striving to keep Eddie Irvine in the championship hunt. The McLarens were running away with the race, and it fell to Irvine’s team mate Mika Salo to help Irvine into the best result he could manage.

Salo held back Williams’ Ralf Schumacher to the tune of nine seconds in the middle of the race, allowing Irvine to get out of the pits ahead of the Williams driver. Patrick Head blew another gasket, but once again there was nothing he could do about the situation.

2003 Italian Grand Prix

There were plenty of run-ins between Ferrari and Williams in the intervening period – often involving Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya. But the events that transpired in the run-up to the 2003 Italian Grand Prix threw the two teams into another fierce row.

Williams had emerged as one of the principal challengers to Ferrari, thanks in part to their Michelin tyres. But following an appeal by Ferrari’s tyre supplier Bridgestone, the FIA instructed Michelin to change the design of their tyres. The pre-race press conference was a hostile affair:

Ross Brawn (Ferrari): Our interpretation was not that the tread was constrained by only being measured when new. With the construction of the regulation I can understand how someone may wish to interpret that way but the construction of the regulation was not when?? it would have said, furthermore, when new, the tread would be no more than 270[mm]. It doesn’t say that. So we had an interpretation which was obviously different to the Michelin teams. We have a regulatory body??

Patrick Head (Williams): Why did you wait for 38 races before raising this point, if you had this view all the time? It seemed an odd time to raise it Ross.

Brawn: That tyre, as I understand it Patrick, you had at Monaco.

Head: It’s exactly the same mould, comes out of exactly the same mould that appeared in 2001 at Imola.

Brawn: Renault used different tyres to you Patrick. There’s a range of Michelins being used in Formula One. We weren’t aware of the problem so any suggestion that we had timed it is inaccurate. Bridgestone is an extremely ethical company and they were aware of this problem for some time and didn’t raise it to our attention. They were troubled with how to deal with it, and they came to us after the race in Hungary and said how can we deal with this problem, because in our view?? [laughing in the audience] Do you have to keep laughing? Thank you. In our view, they brought the photographs of the tyre in Hungary and said to us can you explain this to us and we asked Charlie for an explanation. He said to us he wanted to investigate it because he didn’t understand it. He didn’t understand what he could see on the tyres and went away, and the consequence was the letter that came out on the Wednesday after Hungary.

Head: I thought the consequence was a meeting at Maranello on the Tuesday, of the president of the FIA and the race director.

Brawn: As we know, paranoia runs rife in Formula One. Ron, quite rightly, said you need to look at yourself in the morning and ask yourself if you’ve got integrity. That meeting was set up weeks ago and was a meeting to discuss our business in Formula One. Some of that discussion has been discussed recently about the schedule that we should run in Formula One. It’s not uncommon for us to have meetings with the FIA to discuss things. To suggest that meeting was only about the tyres?? in fact we were asked not to discuss the tyres with Max and Charlie when they came, because they said they were dealing with it. They felt it was inappropriate to discuss the tyres, so I think to suggest that meeting was only held?? I don’t think Max would break his schedule to come over to Italy on a Tuesday after a race for a matter like that. So as I said, there’s a huge amount of paranoia in Formula One. We had an interpretation and we asked the ruling body for a clarification and that was the clarification they gave and I think all the suggestions of Machiavellian plots is just the normal paranoia that runs in Formula One.

For now at least, Williams has not responded to Ferrari’s attack.

Image (C) Williams/Sutton

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