Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 22 News List

Schumacher two picks up his race pace

FORMULA ONE Michael Schumacher is facing his biggest challenge from his little brother, who had a slow start this year, but has now won two in a row

AP , MAGNY COURS, FRANCE

Ralf Schumacher's season started modestly with an eighth-place finish at the Australian Grand Prix. That's turned out to be his worst finish of the season.

Since then, he's done better in every race, including two victories in the last two races.

Not bad for a driver whose ride at Williams-BMW was in doubt a few races ago and was always considered Michael Schumacher's little brother.

With his reported US$15 million contract, there was grumbling earlier this year that Frank Williams expected more from Ralf Schumacher.

Although he scored in the first six races, there was nothing special -- not one pole position and not one top-three finish.

Because of the inconsistent finishes, questions were raised about his attitude.

Williams even said in April that, "Ralf has not been on top form in the first three races of the year, and he won't mind me saying that."

Ralf even was reported to be looking elsewhere after his contract expired at the end of 2004, and Williams was looking at younger drivers in the meantime.

What a difference now.

Ralf has had three pole positions in the last four races and victories within eight days at the European and French Grand Prix races. He led Juan Pablo Montoya in the past two races for two 1-2 finishes for Williams-BMW, and he and Montoya went 2-3 at the Canadian Grand Prix.

And even Ralf's older brother, five-time world champion Michael Schumacher, is a bit concerned.

"Obviously you need to be concerned about it," Michael said after the French race. ``We see what they do, we know what we do, and we obviously work very hard at home to get our acts together to improve the situation."

Michael still leads the driver standings with 64 points with Kimi Raikkonen second with 56. Ralf, however, is third at 53 -- his best showing in the driver's championship.

Ralf started with Jordan in 1997 at age 21, scoring just 13 points and placed 11th.

After finishing 10th the following year, he moved to the Williams team in 1999 and jumped to sixth. In the last three years, he has finished fifth once and fourth twice.

As fast as he is coming on, however, Ralf knows that things can change.

"In Formula One, you can never be confident. I think we are doing a very good job all together at the moment. But you never know," Ralf said. "It is going to be very tough, I'm sure, but we will try and stay where we are and to keep basically going from race-to-race and trying to get the next result out of it."

That next race is the British Grand Prix on July 20.

In the past, Ralf has been accused of not being aggressive enough against his brother. That occurred as recently as the Canadian Grand Prix in June, when Ralf was right behind Michael for much of the race but settled for second.

Ralf said he simply didn't have a chance to pass Michael at the Canadian GP.

Michael sprang to his defense, saying a lot of the criticism comes from people "who talk without knowing what is going on."

For the past two races, however, Michael hasn't been close enough to Ralf to make a move.

The Williams-BMW cars have been fast enough in qualifying to gain the pole position and get ahead, while Michael, in his Ferrari, has had to settle for fourth or fifth in the early laps.

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