I will never forget sitting in the press interview room waitintg for Boris Becker, the great Wimbledon champion who had just lost totally unexpectedly in the second round to an unknown Australian. The German journalists were beside themselves, they simply could not believe it. Boris came in,sat down, and in his usual quiet,civilised way said:" Gentlemen, I lost a tennis match,not a war".
That just about sums up my feelings about the outcome of the European Grand Prix which is going to be held in Jerez, Spain as the track in nearby Portugal was not ready.
The facts are as follows: after 16 rounds of the 1997 Formula One World Championship there is just point between contenders Michael Schumacher and his French-Canadian rival Jacques Villeneuve. If neither finishes then the German wins-as he is ahead by one point-if Villeneuve gets one point and Schumacher gets none then Jacques gets the title because of his 7 victories versus Michael's 5.
There is an awful lot of brouhaha concerning a crash on the first corner between the protagonists, so much so that Max Mosley, head of the FIA-motor racing's world wide body issued a statement threatening draconian measures should anyone get involved in turning the race into a dodgem style knock-out. In a way I can understand him, it would not be the first time. There was a famous encounter between Senna and Prost some years back which gave Senna the title and more recently Schumacher and Hill collided in Japan giving Michael his first title. To this day there are some people who are convinced that it was not a freak accident but a deliberate shove by the young German who was driving for Benetton at the time.
This time everybody is concerned that the number two drivers could be drawn into the Battle of Spain (as some fanciful journalists are referring to this car-race) meaning that Irvine might eliminate Villeneuve and Frentzen might do the same to his countryman. Honestly, can you imagine Heinz-Harald pushing off Germany's favourite son?
I very much doubt it even though they really don't like each other very much at all. As for Eddie-well, he already took Jacques off once this year, right at the beginning of the season in Melbourne so I suppose he could do it again but as he would almost certainly get a year long ban again I doubt it.
It would be foolish to ignore all the other drivers who are keen to make their impressions on this, the last race of the season. During Friday's practice for instance Panis and Hill were really flying partly because of their excellent Bridgestone tyres. Mika Hakkinen is another driver who would very like to win at long last instead of just qualifying well, leading and dropping out time after time with blown engines. Gerhard Berger whose last Formula One race this is going to be for the time being anyway would also like to leave on a winning note, so the outcome will not just depend on Schumacher and Villeneuve, in other words it will not be a private race for two.
Sensational is the only way to describe the years final practice session. Under bright blue skies for the first time in the history of motor racing three drivers had identical times down to 1/1000th of a second.
First Jacques Villeneuve rocketed around the track then a few minutes later his great rival Michael Schumacher equalled the time. Seconds later Villeneuve's teammate Heinz Harald Frentzen went out in a last minute desperate effort to dislodge the Ferrari driver from the front row. We thought he might have done it, but to everyones amazement he too recorded 1 minute 21.072.
The reason why Villeneuve is starting Pole Position is simply he got there first. So are we likely to be watching either a very brief race with a hughe crash right after the start or a thrilling battle down to the last corner. I do hope it will be the latter.
The race itself will be over 69 laps of the 2.748 mile long track and it will start at 2pm Spanish time which is like the crack of dawn in California. Still, if you are a keen F1 fan and have access to ESPN2 or a satellite dish I think you could do a lot worse than adjust your alarm clock.
On the other hand if all that is too much trouble listen to our regular Grand Prix cybercast at 12:30pm PT on Sunday afternoon.