I like Rubens Barrichello. He’s improved season by season and – in qualifying at least – has kept Michael Schumacher on his toes this year. My heart sank, though, when Ferrari announced, some months ago now, that he had signed another two-year deal with the team.
He’ll be quick and capable in 2003, but won’t beat his teammate (even if he is allowed to try). And that means we know who will be world champion next year. And that lack of surprise is what’s stifling the sport.
What we really needed was for Ferrari to sign Juan Montoya – just for the hell of it. Jean Todt and Ross Brawn, two of the best in the business, would have their hands full keeping both parties happy, both sides of the garage would be inspired to greater things, and we’d have a battle to remember. Of course, Ferrari sees no need to send ripples across its millpond, and we face another demonstration of grinding domination.
At the other end of the grid, meanwhile, there is a consortium plotting to buy Minardi. Twenty-five years ago, these roles were played by Austrian-born Canadian Walter Wolf – and Frank Williams. The former bought out the latter, and what happened next is something that will never happen again.
Wolf persuaded Jody Schecicter, the Montoya of his day, to leave Tyrrell and join his untried team. He also coaxed on board Harvey Postlethwaite (the Rory Byrne of his day) and Patrick Head (bursting onto the Formula One scene as Adrian Newey later would). And then they went motor racing.
Make that winning. First time out in Argentina. My God! That’s a million miles from modem-day Formula One, its 10-year business plans and all.
Wolf won again, too, in Monaco (of all places) and Canada, and Scheckter finished second in the driver standings. Today, should Minardi or Arrows (who started one year after Wolf, but didn’t win first time) score a point, they turn backflips of joy – mainly because a bigger chunk of TV money is heading their way. Come to think of it, if Arrows merely turn up at the race, everyone (bar Cosworth) seems pretty pleased.
Wolf faded quickly, of course, their established talent head-hunted, Head slipping through their claws to a burgeoning team called Williams, and an uninspired Hunt replacing Jody. And so it was short. But very, very sweet. And, crucially, unexpected – even in those runwhat-ya-brung DFV/Hewland days.
Out-of-the-blue wins are what’s missing from F1 nowadays. Instead, some teams are slipping into the red, while others jealously guard their patch, green eyes seeing neither left nor right. But despite all of this huffing and puffing, Ferrari’s house looks stronger than ever.
A Wolf at their door would be a welcome sight.