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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 July, 2003, 20:34 GMT 21:34 UK
Younger Schumacher moves up a gear

Jonathan Legard
BBC motor racing correspondent

Ralf Schumacher said he could not believe he had won two races in a row.

But he might also have added that he could not believe how he had emerged as a genuine championship contender after the fumbling start to the season that looked to have endangered his Williams career.

Even three weeks ago he was under attack for failing to convert pole position into victory at the Canadian Grand Prix.

His response since the criticism has surely taken even Frank Williams by surprise.

Ralf Schumacher is sprayed with champagne after winning the French Grand Prix
Ralf Schumacher has won two races in a row

But the team principal's pleasure at Schumacher's transformation from woodentop to winner after the Nurburgring and Magny-Cours did not disguise the force of the team's earlier frustration.

"We pointed out he needed to be more consistent and apply himself to the business of winning and then he would be successful," said the team boss.

That's Williams-speak for a kick up the back-side.

But he did joke: "He must have the read the comments in the press, carefully fed by the Williams F1 team, that he was inconsistent!

"Remember, he has more racing experience that Juan (Pablo Montoya), and that helps."

Williams' other driving force, Patrick Head, who had missed the win last weekend to continue working at the team's Oxfordshire factory, had developed that theme after Schumacher's sublime performance in Saturday qualifying.

"Ralf has come closer to the optimum of the car a bit quicker than Juan, and though Juan made a big improvement today between the warm-up and qualifying, he was always a little bit behind," he said.

When Ferrari, as they surely shall, reignite their title challenge, how confidently will the younger Schumacher make the necessary moves to get past his brother?

"I don't think it has anything to do with the speed of the drivers as such, but there is a difference in experience and application."

It is also noticeable how Schumacher performs more strongly if he is happy with his car's handling. His confidence gives him lift-off.

In contrast, if the balance is awry Montoya is more adept at driving round the problem, while his German team-mate appears to lose heart and drift through a race.

When Schumacher gets in front, as he proved in France and at Imola for his first F1 victory in 2001, he looks like a champion in waiting.

But is he a racing driver or merely a fast driver?

There is a subtle difference.

The Williams team celebrates as Ralf Schumacher wins in France
The Williams team is delighted with Ralf's recent improvement

The overtaking issue, especially the Michael v Ralf debate, will continue to be fuelled unless the brother in blue and white can convince his team, as much as his critics, that the brother in scarlet holds no fears for him in a straight wheel-to-wheel fight.

Impressive as his two back-to-back wins have been, Schumacher did not need to overtake any of his rivals en route to the chequered flag.

Montoya, by contrast, showed only last weekend at the European Grand Prix that he is prepared to take on the five-time champion whenever he sees a chance.

But his deliberate policy of being more conservative in qualifying - revealed this weekend - has yet to pay dividends in the race.

Ralf Schumacher is ahead on poles, points and wins.

Uncertain future

His consistency in scoring in every race in 2003 will not have gone unnoticed at Williams HQ.

But when Ferrari reignite their title challenge, as they surely will, how confidently will the younger Schumacher make the necessary moves to get past his brother - or his team-mate?

After his pole-winning performances in Monaco, Montreal and Magny-Cours, and the fifth and sixth wins of his F1 career, Ralf Schumacher owes it to himself, and a team willing him to fulfil his talent, to take the plunge.

Championships are earned, not inherited.




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