Former F1 pilot (McLaren, Ferrari and Benetton) and team co-owner (Toro Rosso) Gerhard Berger has never been shy about speaking his mind. In a sense he’s a throwback to an earlier era (much as Michael Schumacher has been accused of being lately), as he never takes the corporate line in his public statements, and never has. He’s a bit like a less acerbic version of fellow Austrian Niki “the Rat” Lauda.
Recently, Berger came out in defense of Michael Schumacher’s squeeze play maneuver against Rubens Barrichello, saying that in his days as s driver it was a completely commonplace tactic. By implication, he more or less implied that Barrichello was a cry baby for complaining about it.
And then, in the same breath, Berger said that, while he had previously tipped Schumi to be very much in the running for an eighth title, it was now clear to him that Schumi’s younger team mate had the edge on him, and that the German ace might as well get used to it.
Now, again taking a contrarian attitude, in the wake of Ferrari’s latest episode of team orders, in which Felipe Massa was ordered to make way for new team mate Fernando Alonso in the German Grand Prix, Berger has said that it was inevitable that Alonso would be favored over the Brazilian. While most of the F1 community seemed to take umbrage at the spectacle, Berger, always the hard-nosed realist, recently told Auto Motor und Sport, “Let’s not kid ourselves. Alonso is clearly the better man in the team, their only chance for the world championship. [Ferrari president Luca di] Montezemolo went shopping for him and he is going to play this card as hard as he can.”
While some teams, such as McLaren, have always paid lip service to “fair play,” and publicly eschewed the concept of team orders, Ferrari have never been in this camp. Luca di Montezemolo has always been adamant that Ferrari drivers work for the best interests team, and not vice versa. Even Michael Schumacher, when he came back mid season from the crash in which he suffered a broken leg at Silverstone in 1999, was forced to carry team mate Eddie Irvine’s water for the remainder of the season, as the Irishman still had a reasonable shot at the title, while the German was mathematically out of the running.
Berger’s general take on recent brouhahas that have blown up over indiscretions supposedly committed by various Formula 1 personnel seems to be, “This is Formula 1, get over it.”
It will be interesting to see what happens when (and if) Berger serves a stint as guest steward at an upcoming venue. One can almost hear Berger saying, in paraphrase of Tom Hanks in the film “A League of Their Own,” “This is Formula 1. There’s no crying in Formula 1!”