F1 Rumors - news ahead of the headlines

12th May, 1999

Back Markers - Back Pain?

by Julie Gates

Given the controversy at the San Marino Grand Prix, what exactly should be done about backmarkers during a race? Should they be allowed to run as mobile road blocks as they please, or should extra measures be taken to ensure that the Imola episode is a one-off?

David Coulthard claims that the backmarkers cost him the victory at Imola. "There is no way he (Michael Schumacher) would have beaten us had I not got stuck behind backmarkers who should have moved over when they saw the blue flags."

Blue flags my behind! In this day and age of Formula One, when the technological aspect is at its peak, why should we require the use of flags at trackside waved by Marshalls who might be interested in their own agendas when policing the race? The flags are waved when the Marshall sees fit, and considering those at Imola were mostly Italian, you might wonder if the flags waving Schumacher through might have been slower to come up for David Coulthardů

OK, maybe Coulthard needs to be more aggressive to pass the backmarkers, but on the other hand, why should he? Backmarkers are a lap or more down and should be no concern to the front-runners whatsoever. I am not saying they should stop and have a picnic, but they should let lappers through at the first opportunity. And for Oliver Panis at Imola, it seems the opportunity came immediately when Schumacher came up behind him, but took four laps to appear with Coulthard!

If there are backmarkers battling for their own positions, they may not notice a McLaren or Ferrari filling their mirror; but their team managers always warn them of lappers approaching, even if they do not request the driver to pull over easily. To be fairest, it is the front-runners who are battling each other for points, and they need to be able to compete against each other without having their racing opportunities finished by cars a lap down.

Some argue that great all-round drivers should be able to slice through backmarkers like a hot knife through butter. Whilst this is generally true, it can be difficult; and if the person being lapped isn't willing, it is virtually impossible. A front-runner shouldn't have to plan a passing manoeuvre on cars that are being lapped. Coulthard raged, "They are a lap down, not battling for points, so they should move out of the way. Michael also said he had problems, though others seem to move over quicker for him." Interesting point...

Michael Schumacher is the most aggressive and feared driver on the grid today, and in his bright red Ferrari is easily noticeable. He has an advantage in that straight away. "Move out of the way, or risk an accident," could well be the thoughts of backmarkers when the Ferrari looms large in their mirrors. They certainly seem to move over quicker for Schumacher than any other driver, which does his image of "genius, carving his way through the field" no harm, for sure. Frankly, at Suzuka last year, everyone let him through like they were being held under ransom, up to Damon Hill anyway, who was willing to fight for his race position.

Don't get me wrong, I am not siding with Coulthard, stating that Schumacher has it easy or that backmarkers are a waste of space, but something needs to be done to ensure the imbalance at Imola isn't repeated, where more than one race victory is at stake. The gentlemans agreement of backmarkers allowing lappers through within three Marshalls posts obviously isn't doing its job!

Article is written by and copyright © 1999-2001 Julie Gates and The F1 Rumors Site

Julie Gates is happiest watching F1 and writing. Also interested in singing, cars, cinema, reading and going to concerts, she has little spare time to relax, but this is the way she likes it - rather being busy than idle as she can't stand still for five minutes! Totally committed to her career as a Formula One journalist, she is determined to succeed.

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