The war of words continues in the run up to the German Grand Prix this weekend. Both Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso remain bullish in their public statements, talking of winning races and the championship. Yet I detect a change in the air.
There are signs of nerves in the Renault camp. Alonso has been muttering about the need for his teammate to provide more assistance and Flavio Briatore talks of tires and urges Michelin to provide the goods. Meanwhile all seems well at Ferrari, with Massa enjoying the approval of the team after his defense of second place in the first stint in France, and Lauda asserting that Schumacher’s determination will result in his being champion again this year.
Renault have been through this movie before. In 1983, they were so sure that Prost had done enough to be champion that they concentrated their development efforts on next year’s car (which turned out to be a dog anyway). This allowed Piquet in the Brabham BT52 to sneak through and steal the championship at the last. It’s no wonder that sweat is beginning to break out on the Renault forehead.
The most galling thing for the team must be that, to a large extent, their fate is not in their hands; as Flavio has hinted at, much depends upon Michelin continuing the development of their tires right up until the final race of the season. Although they deny it emphatically, there remains the thought that they might ease up now, knowing that they will no longer be in F1 next year. Renault must hope that Michelin’s desire to leave on a high note remains strong.
The performance of Fisichella also depends on the tires. In races where the Michelins have been competitive, Fizzy has been equal to the task of assisting Alonso’s drive to the championship, usually finishing ahead of Massa. But, when Bridgestone get the upper hand, Fisichella seems to suffer more than Alonso and he can end up fighting with the Toyotas rather than the Ferraris.
So all eyes are upon Michelin this weekend. Will they be able to catch Bridgestone or even pass them? It remains to be seen. But in the meantime, some words of comfort for Renault: if disaster happens and Alonso has to retire from a race that Michael wins, he will still be in the hunt for the championship; if Michael fails to finish a race, he can forget being champion this year. Fernando remains the best bet.