US GP: Drivers and teams expect exciting Indy

Just because Michael Schumacher already has clinched this year's Drivers World Championship doesn't mean that Formula One racing has ground to a halt. The championship consists of 17 races, including the SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29...

Just because Michael Schumacher already has clinched this year's Drivers World Championship doesn't mean that Formula One racing has ground to a halt.

The championship consists of 17 races, including the SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29 at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and each race is a unique event even though the championship has been settled.

"The racing doesn't stop whether the championship is decided or not," Michael Schumacher said. "We have seen this very often - that races continued and still showed good fun. A championship is not only for the first position; there are other positions to be settled, as well, and the races still continue, fights still continue, and good action is going on."

Jacques Villeneuve, winner of the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and the 1997 World Championship, said fans come to see much more than who will win the championship.

"It has been clear what team and what driver would be winning the championship," Villeneuve said, "so I don't think people were coming to see that. People enjoying watching a good race, even when a championship is not at stake."

Rookie Mark Webber never was going to be in contention for the championship or even a race win this season because his KL Minardi-Asiatech simply is not on par with the top cars. Yet Webber has driven flat-out at every Grand Prix since the season opener, where he finished fifth, and he plans to do the same at this year's SAP United States Grand Prix. The rest of the drivers also will drive as hard as ever, Webber said.

"The whole F1 field will drive the same whether the championship is settled or not," Webber said. "Michael (Schumacher) might be World Champion, but you still may see a phenomenal race. You will probably see an awesome race in Indy because we have seen two great races there."

West McLaren Mercedes standout David Coulthard maintained that the racing is not boring now just because the championship has been won.

"It's not boring to me," Coulthard said. "Every race is an opportunity to go and do what we love to do and to try and win. Obviously, as McLaren, we've managed to win one Grand Prix this year and looked like we could have won another in France, so it's not outside the possibilities that we could win another one. And that's exciting."

Because the SAP United States Grand Prix is round 16 of 17 this season, there was always a good chance that the championship would be settled before the F1 cars and drivers arrived at the Brickyard. But Webber pointed out that by this time of the season, the teams have vastly improved the reliability of the cars, and that means the F1 fans at Indianapolis will have a good chance of seeing more cars remain in action for most or all of the 73-lap race.

"The upside for having a race late in the season is that the countries that have their races early in the season have a lot of retirements because the cars aren't reliable yet," Webber said. "So the fans lose out in terms of a race there."

And there are still many battles to be fought. There's a close three-way fight between Juan Pablo Montoya, Ralf Schumacher and David Coulthard for third place in the championship. Only one point separates the four drivers contesting eighth place in the championship, and only two points separate the next six drivers in the standings.

2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Montoya had a good chance of winning the 2001 SAP United States Grand Prix until his Williams-BMW stopped with a mechanical failure. He's keen to win this year's F1 race at Indy -- just as he keen to win every Grand Prix on the schedule so that he could put the winner's trophy on his mantle.

"Every single race is one you want to put on your mantle piece," Montoya said. "Just because Michael is miles ahead on points, it doesn't mean that I am going to give up. I have been on pole (seven times in 2002), and you can't really call that giving up. In Canada, we had the pace to win. In Monaco, we had the pace to win. At every race you try to get as many points as possible."

Just because Ferrari has won so often this year, that doesn't automatically mean that it will win the SAP United States Grand Prix. The tire war between Bridgestone and Michelin could throw a twist into the race results, as could any other number of variables.

"Because of the influence of the tires and the various performance differences between the cars," said West McLaren-Mercedes director Ron Dennis, "there is no certainty of the outcome of the race. If the tire war maintains this pace, the racing is going to become very interesting.

"While the championship is decided, you are still going to see some great races. That's what F1 is about - great racing. Of course, the championship is something you race for, but I don't think any driver starts a race without the view to not winning it. If they are out there fighting for race wins, you are going to see some great racing."

Gerhard Berger, a 10-time Grand Prix winner who is now the director of BMW Motorsport, agreed with Dennis.

"The picture can change very quickly," Berger said. "The fans know this. There is still room to have an interesting season this year. It is quite clear that nobody is going to take away the championship from Michael, but we are going to see some interesting races."

Webber summed it all up this way.

"The race itself at Indianapolis will still be great even though Michael is already champion," he said. "Michael will be racing and banging wheels with Montoya or Coulthard or whoever it is even if he has a 100-point lead.

"The fans have to come and watch the United States Grand Prix. It comes once a year."


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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams , Minardi