Canny Coulthard too corporate-savvy to make firm stand

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2005, 12:00am

Races in Germany for Michael Schumacher are a little like birthdays for the Queen of England; there's the official one, and then there's the real one. The fans at Hockenheim this weekend for the German Grand Prix will be rooting for their compatriot although Michael hails from much closer to the Nurbergring, venue for the European Grand Prix.

His reception from the crowd is likely to be warm but it could be cool from some of the other drivers.

Like almost all other parts of F1, the drivers have been drawn into a row with Max Mosley and the sports governing body the FIA, and it would seem Schumacher is none too supportive.

The main beef is about safety with David Coulthard claiming last weekend that drivers could go on strike in the second half of the season if their concerns aren't listened to. A half-year at Red Bull has certainly emboldened the Scot who, as we've mentioned in this column previously, wouldn't say boo to a corporate goose when at McLaren. But as a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, he's come into conflict with Mosley, who cancelled a meeting with drivers because of public comments made by the Red Bull man about the new F1 rules.

Now Mosley says he will meet them, but only if at least half of the drivers come to Cannes at the start of next month. Coulthard is trying to rustle up support, but is less than enamoured with the arrangement, saying: 'Clearly it's easier to get one man to a group than a group to one man, but that's what he's offered us and we will endeavour to make that meeting,' You suspect a new front has been opened in the war between the car manufacturers and the FIA (and Ferrari) over the future of the sport. In this particular battle it's the drivers who've been sent over the top. It seems that Mosley is spoiling for a fight with everyone - including the stars on the track on whom they all depend. His lambasting of Coulthard and other drivers certainly wasn't called for and you suspect it was a calculated move from a man who normally isn't known for his sensitivity to criticism.

Racing drivers tend to be a pretty passionate bunch and the odd punch-up isn't unknown over incidents on the track. But when it comes to the arguments off it, there's normally a stony silence, at least in public. But such is the bad blood in F1 at the moment that they've been dragged into it. They're genuinely angry about events at Indianapolis, although cynics would suggest that they are playing their teams' hands.

Which brings us back to Michael Schumacher. He's also a director of the GPDA, and yet he didn't sign the letter from the organisation deploring the FIA's role in the US Grand Prix fiasco. It was claimed he didn't actually see it although of course he drives for Ferrari, the FIA's ally in this current civil war. You suspect that just as drivers have to obey team orders on the track they have to think very carefully about the consequences of their actions off of it.

And that thought brings us rather neatly back to Coulthard. It seems he might have to watch his p's and q's after all. His team Red Bull have announced this week that they are signing up with F1 until 2012. In doing so they align themselves with Ferrari. This announcement comes shortly after Ferrari agreed to supply Red Bull with Ferrari engines next year. Funnily enough Coulthard earlier this week went back on his drivers strike threat. Perhaps the canny Scot hasn't lost all his corporate instincts after all.