Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, June 12, 1999

2 Drivers, 2 Directions

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
PARIS - While growing up in Germany, Heinz-Harald Frentzen saw many mangled bodies in car accidents from drunken driving. It was his job to help his father clean up after them in the family undertaking business.

But he says those sights taught him a lesson for life, one he still thinks about now that he is in the business of driving.

On Sunday, he drives at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal where, in last year's chaotic, accident-filled race, Frentzen was involved in one of the season's most controversial incidents on lap 20.

After the safety car neutralized the race for a fourth time, Michael Schumacher made a pit stop while he was in the lead. When he re-entered the track, he cut in front of Frentzen, who was going full speed in third place.

Perhaps remembering the family business, Frentzen chose to spin out rather than collide. Schumacher served a 10-second penalty but won the race. He claimed he hadn't seen Frentzen, but on television it looked as if he cut him off to gain a position.

The incident symbolized the different directions taken by the careers of the two German drivers. Frentzen was in the second of two failed seasons at the once-dominant Williams team. He won only one race, while Schumacher was the sport's dominant driver, twice world champion.

But the soft-spoken, introverted Frentzen sees those two years as simply more of life's lessons.

''Today I am a more complete driver than I was when I started my lessons at Williams,'' he said. ''They were two important years for me, not so much from the results but more from the point of view of learning about Formula One.''

The lessons have certainly been learned. While Ferrari and McLaren drivers still control the races this year, Frentzen is leading the rest of the pack. He is fourth in the drivers' title race, behind two Ferrari drivers and a McLaren driver, and he has placed his Jordan team third in the constructor's race, ahead of Williams.

Frentzen, 33, seems to be in charge of his destiny for the first time since he came to Formula One in 1994. As a teenager he outshone Schumacher in karting; he finished second in the Formula Three series in Germany in 1989 when Schumacher finished third, and he was considered the more talented of the two at Peter Sauber's sports car team in 1990.

But where Schumacher made a lightning start to his career in Formula One, Frentzen went adrift in Formula 3000. (He also lost his girlfriend to Schumacher, and she is now Mrs. Schumacher.) When he finally broke into Formula One, it was with the new Sauber team. He squeezed good results from a bad car, and when Ayrton Senna was killed at Imola, Italy, Frank Williams invited Frentzen to take Senna's place. Frentzen turned him down.

''It was just the loyalty,'' Frentzen said. ''I had a three-year contract with Sauber, and no matter what happened, I wanted to stay with Sauber.''

Frentzen says that while the Williams car was so good in 1994 that it ''might have even made an inexperienced driver like me a world champion,'' he preferred to learn his lessons before taking his diploma.

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