Is it time for Ralf to take a stand?
NÜRBURGRING, Germany Is the family feud over?
The brothers Schumacher say it is.
Although their body language showed there was still some tension between the two, both Michael and Ralf say they are not upset with each other. And they are sticking to their opinions.
It all started in the final seconds of the Monaco Grand Prix. Fernando Alonso, struggling on worn tires, was in fourth place with Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher, Michael Schumacher and Rubens Barrichello stacked up behind him.
Michael, having slithered by a chagrined Barrichello earlier on the last lap, made a lunge to pass brother Ralf on the start/finish straight. Ralf was angling toward the wall and the finish line when Michael tried to dive through the narrowing gap. Ralf had to swerve to the left to avoid Michael but held onto sixth place. The two cars actually touched after crossing the line.
Ralf said Michael was "crazy" and turned off his brain when he got into the car.
Michael said he was there to race, not to go out for a drive to get some coffee.
Barrichello, too, came out with a rare bit of criticism for Michael.
Four days later both Schumachers were in an official FIA press conference at the Nürburgring circuit on the Thursday prior to the European Grand Prix. Ralf, sitting in the upper tier, looked glum as he cradled his chin in his hands. Below him and to his right sat Michael trying to look nonchalant and coming across as slightly embarrassed.
"It is all over," Michael said. "I mean Ralf and myself had a nice chat about it. It is racing."
Ralf said, "As he said, we discussed it and it's done. It is not right to discuss this any more."
Of course, the media weren't going to let them get away that easy.
So what about this brotherly war that had been headlines in the press for the last four days?
"We are both very highly competitive race drivers," Michael said. "We fight on the circuit, everyone for his own interest, in a way for his team. But you never forget it is your brother, and you love your brother. You finish the race, you may have some more emotions, but it doesn't really matter. At the end of the day, it is your brother, your blood, and everything that has been written in these silly newspapers at this moment, if you know each other, if you would know us two, then you know it is BS."
Asked for his opinion, Ralf said curtly, "Nothing to add."
As for Barrichello's being upset, Michael said, "It is racing."
"I spoke to him on Monday because it was his birthday. He was pretty relaxed. He is Brazilian, anyway, you should know, he is a bit more temperamental," added Michael, himself notoriously volatile.
An important fact in the sequence of the disagreement is some of Ralf's sharp criticisms of his brother came a day or two after the event rather than in the heat of the moment just after the race.
By now the mood in the news conference was lightening up, and Ralf was becoming more talkative.
"You have an opinion," he said, "it is nothing to do with being emotional or anything. Obviously, straight after the race, you can be slightly more emotional. You have an opinion and you stick to it.
"But it has nothing to do with a war, a family or brotherly war, it is just a different opinion. Whether it would have been Michael or anybody else, at that moment I had a different opinion than a competitor. So I don't really see what the fuss is about. I understand to some extent that it is interesting for people to write about. It was maybe a good advert for tickets at the Nürburgring, so it's great for all of us, isn't it?"
This is not the first time Ralf has backed off to avoid a collision with Michael. At this very track in 2001 Michael turned practically 90 degrees to cut off Ralf at the start. The brothers say that they never collide because they respect each other's talent and know just how far they can push the envelope.
The last time they collided was racing go-karts as teenagers.
The pundits say Michael knows Ralf will always back off to avoid a clash. Indeed, there are certain drivers out there who seem to melt out of the way when Michael looms in their mirrors.
But Michael knows other drivers, such as Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Takuma Sato and Montoya, will not just give way. If Michael pulls an aggressive passing move on them that would end in a collision if they did not back off, then it will end in a collision.
Isn't it time Ralf shows Michael he can't get away with such banzai moves?
A journalist put that question to Ralf. Unfortunately the microphone didn't work at the beginning of the question and that defused the volatile nature of challenge.
Journalist: "The incident between you and Michael follows a number of incidents in which Michael was involved. Back in 1992, at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Michael was almost put off the road by Ayrton Senna. He was very upset about it. He was upset about it at the time and he never complained about it again. All he did was, to change his whole attitude: he adopted Senna's style. The question I have for you, Ralf, is why don't you adopt Michael's style and do to him exactly what he has been doing to you and other people for so many years?"
Michael jumped in: "I think there was a good reason why your microphone didn't work!" (Much laughter.)
There's a certain irony here. Michael did just what he does on the track jumped in to change the situation to his advantage.
Ralf: "You should answer that one! Basically that is the way it is. In racing situations sometime you see things in a different way. We all fight for positions, people do think it is a bit tough or too tough, and maybe those things happen to me as well. Maybe for the future we adapt all that.
"At the end of the day we are all sensible. Nobody wants to hurt another driver but obviously, at the same time, you have to fight for your position, for your team and your own points, and it is a decision we sometimes have to take within a couple of tenths of a second. It might not always been the right one. It is like a start incident, things like this can always happen."
Ralf says "at the end of the day we are all sensible" but there's a veiled threat in his statement as well. He talks about drivers being "too tough" fighting for positions and then adds "maybe for the future we adapt all that."
Is the family feud over? Or has Ralf finally had enough of Michael's ways? Will Ralf not swerve out of the way next time? It will be very interesting to see what happens the next time they are fighting for position out on the track.
Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.
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