Quotable QuotesI was pissed off!" exclaimed Mika Hakkinen. "I was really upset," he emphasized. The 2001 USGP was effectively won on the morning of the race, when Hakkinen was penalized for re-entering the track during the free practice when there was a red light at the pit exit.
Hakkinen, and the five cars ahead of him, were trying to get back underway after the session had been stopped for a crash. Indy's backwards-for-F1 pit lane kinks to the left at the exit, and the cars ahead on Hakkinen's left obstructed his view of the lights at pit out. He thought they were waiting to perform practice starts from the pit lane and so went around them on the right.
In response, the FIA handed down a draconian penalty: Hakkinen's fastest qualifying lap, the one that put him on outside pole, was disallowed. His next-fastest lap was good for fourth place.
Winning the race was sweet revenge for a penalty he thought was excessive. Hakkinen relished the thought of seeing his tormentors after the race. "I was really looking for some stewards on the podium, to be honest," he said. "Rules are rules, but you have to use some common sense."
Getting in on the action, David Coulthard smirked, "The keyword was common sense." Presumably both of them were called to the principal's office after school for their remarks.
It is only to be expected that when a bunch of Europeans are dropped into the American heartland, there is going to be some culture clash. But that expectation doesn't prevent it from being funny when it happens.
At a reception with BMW Williams F1 drivers Ralf Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya, a journalist asked Ralf whether there were any American racing series he would like to try, or any American drivers he'd like to match himself against. Seeing Ralf's puzzled expression, seeming to imply that it would be foolish to think any American drivers would pose any threat to him in a race, the journalist offered, "How about Jeff Gordon?"
This only increased Schumacher's bewilderment. "Who is Jeff Gordon?" he asked.
Afterward, on a drive back to the hotel with BMW racing boss Gerhard Berger and PR guy Guido Stalmann, Stalmann eagerly spotted a tricked-out late '70s Monte Carlo at an intersection. The car was moving up and down slightly. "Look, a lowrider," he called out.
Berger leaned forward. "What do they call that?" Your correspondent explained that it is a lowrider, a car fitted with hydraulic suspension that can let the car sit very low to the ground, can make it bounce up and down, or sit at strange angles. "They can even bounce up completely off the ground!" Stalmann exclaimed, as all eyes focused on the Monte Carlo, hoping it would do more than wobble up and down slightly.
Berger looked even more perplexed. Finally, he asked, "For what purpose do they do this?" Dunno, we told him, that's a different magazine.
The question on all American F1 fans' minds is, "When are we going to get an American driver in F1?" No one knows, but McLaren's Ron Dennis and Mercedes' Norbert Haug offered some guidance. "The Formula 3 series is where a driver needs to be seen," Dennis said. Formula Renault would be a good alternative, Haug suggested. "You have to have a base in Europe; that is what we are convinced of," he said.
Nevertheless, the Minardi team expressed some interest in speaking with Indy Lights points leader Townsend Bell. So maybe the rules are flexible.
The good news is that Alex Gurney is in British F3 now, and American Pat Long is the championship leader in British Formula Ford, a traditional springboard to bigger and better things.
Dennis also suggested that the U.S. should host a pair of grands prix. "The country is big enough to support more than one grand prix," he said. "Geographically, a West Coast race would make the most sense." Dennis said he'd support two USGPs if the second date was in place of a current event. "As long as it doesn't push the number of races to 17, which we believe is one too many," he said.
McLaren's ability to swoop in and grab Kimi Raikkonen from Peter Sauber, despite a binding contract, is good news for team bosses, according to Jaguar's Niki Lauda. "I think it is good," he said. "Normally, you have to respect contracts. But what they have done is very interesting. Raikkonen goes to Sauber and says, 'I don't like to drive for you any more.' Sauber was surprised, because he got the guy, coming from nowhere, and put him in his car. So [Raikkonen] says, 'I'm not going to drive for you, even if we have a contract.' Then Ron [Dennis] comes along and pays the money. If it means that we don't have to respect contracts, I like it. I go to the next guy; 'Tell your boss to get stuffed.' Then the contracts aren't valid."