Unexpected fallout at  F1 finish

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   They knew it was bad when perennial favorite Michael Schumacher was met with an unrelenting chorus of boos following the end of Sunday's Austrian Grand Prix.
   Chasing his fifth Formula One World Driver's Championship, Schumacher finally scored an elusive first victory in this race, but only after teammate Rubens Barrichello slowed and pulled over for Schumacher to take the win.
   A teammate pulling over in Formula One is nothing new, although it was highly unusual with Barrichello dominating all the weekend's action from qualifying to leading every lap, but the final few feet on Sunday.
   Ferrari, both the car maker and official team owner, immediately knew this was more than a simple public relations snafu. If Schumacher wins the title by a wide margin, Sunday's fixed outcome looks incredibly foolish.
   If Schumacher wins by a margin less than the four extra points he earned at the end of the race, his championship will be tarnished. In the post race celebration, Schumacher insisted that Barichello stand at the winner's spot on the podium and set in the winner's seat in the press room.
   Both drivers were visibly upset with the orders from higher up, but neither backed away from the commands. Barichello had just signed a new two-year contract with the auto maker and he understands his role is as the team's number two driver.
   For Schumacher, who most international racing experts rank as the number one driver in the world, the win did nothing to enhance his reputation. It damaged the entire Formula One circuit.
   One local radio show has compared this race to the restrictor-plate teamwork shown by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Michael Waltrip at NASCAR events. Nothing at Talladega or Daytona remotely is a slap into the face of sportsmanship as the end of this event.
   On a final note, CART owner Barry Green faced a similiar situation when Dario Franchitti was racing for the 1999 series championship. A Green owned car driven by Paul Tracy was leading at Houston with Franchitti in second.
   To Green's credit, no team orders were given. The race did end up costing his team the championship as Juan Montoya and Franchitti ended up tied in the point standings at year's end, but Montoya won the tie-breaker. Ironically, it is Montoya currently riding second behind Schumacher in the Formula One standings.
   After this weekend's fiacso, I have a new found respect for Barry Green.
   ROUSH RACING COMMENTS ON ALL-STAR CHANGE
   NASCAR has changed the format of this weekend's "The Winston" all-star race. For the first time in 17 years, drivers will be eliminated from the grid following the first and second segments. Leaving the 10 fastest drivers to compete in a 20 lap shootout for the $3 million purse. We asked the Roush Drivers what their thoughts are on the new format and these are their responses:
   Jeff Burton, No. 99 CITGO Racing Ford Taurus:
   "I think it's cool. I like the new format because it will keep people from sandbagging. The problem with the old format is that it was hard to get to the front if you were in back. This is a special race and it should have rules unique to it. I think it will be a great format and the fans will enjoy it."
   Mark Martin, No. 6 Viagra Ford Taurus:
   "That sounds okay to me. Looks like it will be important to get good track position and stay towards the front of the pack. From that point you just have to see what happens down the stretch."
   Matt Kenseth, No. 17 DEWALT Ford Taurus:
   "Should be really cool. At the very least it will make things more exciting. It will ensure that the best car wins."
   Kurt Busch, No. 97 Rubbermaid Ford Taurus:
   "We are a new driver with a new format in this year's Winston. It should be very exciting. I feel extremely honored to be a part of The Winston."
   Greg Biffle, No. 60 Grainger Ford Taurus:
   "I like the new format. What it does is eliminate drivers sandbagging in a segment to get a better starting position for the next. The Winston is going to be wide open this year, and the fans are going to be in for a great show. I wish I were going to be in it, but if nothing else I'd like to be there watching. I guess I'll check it out on TV in Nazareth."
   Fans will vote before the last segment of the race on how many positions the field will invert. Hopes are this will create another memorable finish to rival the '87 Earnhardt "Pass in the Grass" or the Wallace spins Waltrip installment in 1989. With no clear cut favorite, the 2002 version could be one of the best all-star races yet.