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Grand Prix Report 07/20/1999

20 July 1999

Andrew Frankl

European Bureau Chief

Talk about action. Talk about drama. Talk about histrionics. Yes, the British Grand Prix had of all that and then some!

The race, as you will have read by now was won by Scotland's David Coulthard by less than two seconds from Ferrari's Eddie Irvine. The Irishman overshot his re-fuelling point and lost valuable seconds and with that the race.

The drama of course was Schumacher's horrendous accident. I don't want to over dramatize it, after all he got away with two broken bones in his right leg but it did look absolutely horrible, reminiscent-at least visually- of poor Ayrton Senna's crash at Imola 1994. The Press gang following Grand Prix racing are a pretty cynical bunch but their was a collective holding of breaths followed by cries of Oh NO! as the red Ferrari T boned the tyrewall. For a second or two nobody knew the extent of the double World Champion's injuries and when the marshalls turned up with huge white sheets to cover him and the wrecked car the appalling memories of that fateful day in May kept flooding back. It was not until Claus Kremer, the FIA's ever helpful Press Officer made an announcement about the relativly slight injuries that we all started to relax. All tribute to Professor Watkins who pushed through the safety changes to Grand Prix cars.

As for Michael, well, he will be out of action for a while, according to my information probably until the Belgian Grand Prix-his favourite track- at the end of August. All of this is very good news for Eddie Irvine who is just eight points behind Mika Hakkinen. He has been talking rather a lot lately about how he would have a go a winning the Championship given half a chance, well, this time he has Team Ferraris's undivided attention!

As for Mika Salo, the temporary replacement, well, he will have to learn an awful lots very quickly indeed. He has had all sort of drives in Formula One but never one in a car as good as Ferrari. On top of that he is not best friends with the current World Champion, the other Mika, so, not to put too fine a point on it Salo cannot wait to stuff his countryman good and proper! In plain English he will do his level best to help Eddie and hinder Hakkinen.All sentiments apart-that is what he is being paid for.We shall see.

Elsewhere there are big dramas at BAR. Having splashed literally tens of millions dollars on fancy headquaters, mobile homes and all sorts of unnecessary extras they have yet to provide a car for 1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve in which he could finish a race!

To see him stranded on the starting grid was not what the sponsors and potential sponsors were hoping to see, not to mention the young Canadian whose mood is getting from bad to worse if that is possible. As he is already seriously wealthy all he wants to do is compete first and foremost, something so far he has not had a chance to do. Admittedly he has a pop star to cheer him up in the evening, but apparently even that did not work out as they were staying at the track in a huge motorhome and there were revellers keeping her all night. Poor thing.

Damon Hill stopped playing silly buggers and finally made up his mind to stay with Jordan until the end of the season. Cannot help feeling that his cigarette sponsors might have had something to do with it.Shame in a way. Silverstone, with a fine fifth place would have been a nice swan song, now if things don't work out in Austria and Germany it will be sulks all over again.Mind you, Hungary is his favourite track coming up on August 15 and it would be fun to see him win at the track where he clinched his first ever victory in 1993. His team mate Heinz Harald Frentzen is flying like never before, after two miserable years at Williams he is happy as a sandboy at Jordan.

As for the rest..well, Schumacher's younger brother Ralf is really beginning to fly which could not have been too easy for him after seeing his big brother crash into the tyre-wall. He did run into the medical unit quickly to see Michael before getting back into his car for the second start.

What a shame motor racing cannot be a bit more like golf. At Silverstone the Minardis had as much chance of winning the Grand Prix as I had sitting in the press room.Yet, a week later a qualifier, an unheralded 30 year old professional from Aberdeen ,Scotland cliched one of the game's greatest trophies-that of the British Open. 158th in the World, an 80-1 outsider on Sunday morning he ended the day half a million dollars and a lot of glory richer.True, had it not been for the idiotic antics of an adorable Jean Van de Velde from France on the final hole the trophy would have travelled to that great country of wine and cheese for the first time in 92 years! But, coming back to motor racing it is as though Minardi are first and Arrows are second.What chance? No chance! Pity.

On the business front it was very interesting to hear DaimlerChrysler's purchase of some equity in TAG-McLaren. Ron Dennis and his partner Mansour Ojjeh are getting lots of money but at the same time massive backing as well from one of the World's foremost automotive companies.All credit to Ron who in the 60s was one of Jack Brabham'sw mechanics.

BMW are also getting more and more involved with Williams which is understandable, especially as Sir Frank is losing his cigarett sponsor for 2000.

Ford supremo Jac Nasser seems intent on turning the recently purchased Stewart Grand Prix team into Team Jaguar, something his new ex-BMW man Herr Reitzle seems very keen on.Wolfgang R. is head of the Premier Group which must be fun for someone who did not get the top job at BMW and now, a few weeks later has Jaguar, Volvo, Lincoln-Mercury and Aston Martin under his command. Talk about an early Christmas..

Fiat are celebrating 100 years in the automotive business this week, as to the next 100, I cannot help thinking that they may not stay fully independent that much longer.

So, as you can see there is an awful lot going on and I did not even have a chance to mention recent crash tests in which various Chrysler products did rather badly.Luckily they will have some Mercedes safety experts to call upon which has to be a good thing because the Detroit giant does make exciting products, making them safer should not be that difficult. Which does goes to show that sometimes mergers can be a good thing.