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A black day for Formula One

NEWS STORY
27/05/2006

It was David Coulthard who famously said that opinions are like assholes - everyone's got one.

Since just before 15.00 (Monaco time) today, everyone, but everyone, has had an opinion on one particular subject. Namely, did Michael Schumacher deliberately stop his Ferrari on track at the final corner (Rascasse), thereby preventing his rivals from beating his time.

It was to be expected that internet message boards and forums would play host to some of the fiercest debates, since the German driver seems to polarise fans. However, it is the backlash from within the paddock that has really sent out shockwaves, as drivers and team principals make no effort to conceal what they think… namely, that the German cheated.

Eight hours after the incident which will get Formula One back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, the stewards finally reached a conclusion. They decided that the seven-time world Champion had deliberately stopped on track in an effort to thwart his rivals. He was subsequently stripped of his times and demoted to the back of the grid, where he will start alongside his teammate, Felipe Massa, who crashed at the beginning of the session having failed to post a time.

However, while the stewards were deliberating, the rest of Monaco was doing what it does best, partying. In the hotels, clubs and bars, on the yachts in the harbour, the rich and the beautiful, the powerful and the vain, carried on blissfully ignorant that Formula One was about to be dealt another vicious body blow.

A day or so after Flavio Briatore called on Formula One to respect its customers, the sport turned around and issued another vicious bite to the (public) hand that feeds it.

What we now need to know is how the stewards have reached their decision, how they know that Michael Schumacher deliberately parked his car on track. Ferrari is one of only two teams that encrypts its team radio, however the FIA has full access. Therefore, were the stewards privy to orders from the Ferrari garage, or was the clue to the German's guilt to be found in the Ferrari's telemetry?

The statement issued by the stewards reads: "The stewards can find no justifiable reason for the driver to have braked with such undue, excessive and unusual pressure at this part of the circuit…"

Which certainly points to the fact that their finding is based on telemetry readings. If this is so, what took them so long?

At the same time, having been accused of cheating, which is basically what is being said, will Ferrari and Schumacher appeal, surely if they are innocent they must.

No doubt the matter will be hushed up for now, in order that the sport's 'jewel in the crown' is not tarnished. However, the reality of what has happened here today is that Formula One has suffered another massive blow to its credibility and the customers don't know who to blame.

If nothing else, today's decision by the race stewards, together with the backlash from within the paddock, not to mention the fact that he has been accused and found guilty of cheating, is sure to cause Michael Schumacher to think long and hard about whether he really wants to continue. Tonight's decision might have driven him into retirement.

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