Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Friday, May 19, 2000

For Schumacher Brothers, It's Now a Close Race

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
NURBURGRING, Germany - Brother battling brother is not a usual sight in Formula One.

But if Ralf Schumacher continues to improve he and his brother Michael will be conducting their sibling rivalry at the front of the field. Their wheel-to-wheel battles have been highlights of the last two races.

Appropriately, act three of the Schumacher Brothers Show will have a home setting Sunday at the European Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, Germany.

At a press conference at the track, Ralf said life would be simpler if his brother retired. He added, ''We like fighting each other, and we look forward to more of this.''

The relationship has evolved over the years. Before Ralf, who is six years younger, entered Formula One in 1997, Michael, who was already world champion, would praise him, saying Ralf was better than he was at the same age. It sounded like brotherly pride, mixed with a touch of good marketing sense.

Family rivalry is common in racing in the United States among families like the Unsers, Allisons, Andrettis and Pettys. But differences in talent, the short length of a career at the pinnacle of motor racing and the huge difference in quality between Formula One cars mean that brothers have rarely faced off in the series.

The Rodriguez brothers, Pedro and Ricardo, of Mexico, raced in the 1960s, but not at the same time. Gilles Villeneuve's younger brother, Jacques, who won an IndyCar race in 1985, failed to qualify in three attempts in Formula One, in 1981 and 1983. Gilles won six races.

Interestingly for Ralf Schumacher, the younger sibling has almost always surpassed the older one.

Emerson Fittipaldi won two world titles. His older brother, Wilson,

raced in three Formula One seasons in the mid-1970s and only earned a total of 3 points.

Jody Schecker drove in 112 races and won the world championship in 1979. His older brother Ian raced in 18 races and scored no points.

With both the Brabham brothers, David and Gary, and the Brambilla brothers, Vittorio and Tino, the younger siblings qualified for 24 and 74 races respectively, while the elder brothers failed to qualify for any races, after two attempts each.

Jackie Stewart's older brother Jimmy raced in the British Grand Prix in 1953, but did not score a point. Jackie won three world titles.

The same pattern holds for the Gene brothers from Spain. Jordi Gene looks and talks just like his younger brother Marc, a driver with the Minardi team. But Jordi only ever got as far as being a test driver at Benetton in 1993.

''It used to be that everyone mistook him for me,'' Jordi, 29, said before the Porsche Supercup race at the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona two weeks ago. ''Now they mistake me for him.'' Marc said: ''I had the luck that he didn't. The problem for Jordi was that when he was ready to enter Formula One, Spain was not ready.''

Last year Marc Gene raised sponsorship money from Telefonica, the Spanish telecommunications company, which assured his place on the team. But he said that without his brother's coaching, he would not be where he was.

Ralf has benefited from the helping hand of his older brother in a far more visible way. During the French Grand Prix in 1997, Michael slowed his Ferrari almost to a stop as he was about to cross the finish line to win the race. That allowed Ralf, who was a lap behind, to pass in his Jordan.

''I knew if I let him pass me before the finish line he could complete another lap and possibly improve his position,'' said Michael. Ralf overtook David Coulthard to finish sixth and gain one point.

At the Hungarian Grand Prix later that year, Ralf was in fifth and going faster than Michael in fourth. But Ralf made no attempt to pass. This drew accusations that the brothers were not competing with each other.

But at the Luxembourg Grand Prix in 1997, also at the Nurburgring, Ralf inadvertently knocked Michael off the track and out of the race during a first lap tussle between Ralf and his teammate Giancarlo Fisichella.

Ralf's attitude appeared to change as he improved last year at the Williams team, where he eventually earned 35 points. At the 1999 French Grand Prix he passed his brother three laps from the end to grab fourth and relegate Michael to fifth.

The first act in this year's drama was at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last month when Ralf passed Michael at the start.

''I was having a good fight with him in the first couple of corners,'' Michael said. ''But then I really had to back off. He seemed to be very keen to close the door, and I didn't want to risk having an 'off' with my brother, obviously.''

At the next race, the Spanish Grand Prix, two weeks ago, Ralf leapt at a chance to overtake his brother's Ferrari, which was handicapped by a slow leak in a tire. Michael cut over to block and while the brothers fought it out, Barrichello, Michael's teammate, dived past, going from fifth place to third.

''As I was following Michael and Ralf,'' Barrichello said, ''I asked myself if they were going to crash.''

After the race Ralf made his anger known to his older brother. Michael responded by changing his tune from Silverstone.

''Racing is racing, even if it's my brother,'' said Michael.

On Thursday at the Nurburgring, Ralf said that trust made it easier to overtake Michael.

''We can be more on the limit because we can rely on each other not to play any dirty games,'' he said. ''We simply know each other, and in knowing somebody, you know what he's going to do, and the other way around, and therefore, you can just go absolutely on the limit.''

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