By Matt Bishop, England
F1 Racing Editor in Chief
The elder statesmen of the F1 grid will be heading to Imola with mixed results and varied concerns. F1 Racing's Matt Bishop takes a look at the state of affairs in the geriatric ward
And so to Imola - where, after three exhausting flyaway races from which Formula One's quartet of elder statesmen came away with a very mixed bag of results, all four 'golden oldies' will be hoping for better things from the Gran Premio di San Marino.
Michael Schumacher (36) and Rubens Barrichello (32) will be fervently hoping - make that fervently praying, in the God-fearing Rubens' case - that the handful of impressive laps completed by Michael's Ferrari F2005 in the early laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix was a genuine barometer of latent speed to come. For if it was not - if the red cars fail to paint the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari red (make that rosso corsa), then Monday's Gazzetta dello Sport will make very uncomfortable reading indeed for Messrs Luca di Montezemolo, Jean Todt, Ross Brawn et al.
Equally, David Coulthard (34) will be hoping that he can stamp his authority on his new teammate, Vitantonio Liuzzi, who will be making his Grand Prix debut in his own back yard. For, although David has scored points in all three Grands Prix to have been run so far this year (the only man other than Renault's all-conquering Fernando Alonso to have done so), the unjustly rejected and understandably dejected Christian Klien has usually matched him and sometimes shaded him in terms of out-and-out pace. Indeed, bearing in mind Klien's place and date of birth - he was born at Hohenems (about 60 miles west of Innsbruck) as recently as February 7, 1983 - and the Red Bull Racing power-brokers' devotion to Austrian patriotism and 'yoof' culture, poor Christian can count himself very unlucky indeed.
And as for the wretched Jacques Villeneuve (34), well, it has been drinking-up time in his personal last-chance saloon for some time now...
Like DC, JV used to be regarded as a man whose technique was particularly well suited to the peculiar demands of Imola - but for different reasons. While Coulthard's economical turn-in and accurate track positioning have usually enabled him to thread a deceptively rapid route between the quirky circuit's dauntingly precipitous kerbs (watch out, Tonio!), it was Jacques's willingness to thump/jump the same obstacles, often getting hefty apex 'air' in the process and thereby chipping vital feet off the conventional racing line, that advantaged him over his peers.
If his crash-bang-wallop approach works this year, and if his tyres survive the punishment that such a technique inevitably engenders, he may earn a reprieve; if not, Peter Sauber may at last be forced to admit what most commentators and pundits told him long ago: namely, that signing JV was an error as incomprehensible as that which one disgraced British politician (in)famously excused as "a moment of madness".
But, here's a thought: if, of our four old stagers, Coulthard has by some margin enjoyed the best 2005 so far, then he has Herr Sauber to thank for it. Had ol' Pete done as his long-time sponsor Red Bull had begged him to do last autumn, and signed their young protÃ©gÃ© (Liuzzi) instead of the ageing Villeneuve for 2005, then the Austrians might not have deserted the Swiss after all. And had they not done so, then Jaguar Racing might never have been sold... and Coulthard would probably now be out of work, along with the 350 ex-Jaguar Racing workers who are now employed by Red Bull Racing.
As the eternally devout Rubens Barrichello has said many times before: "Everything happens for a reason." And whether it was God's will or not, and whether or not He moves in mysterious ways, undoubtedly Peter Sauber made a very mysterious move in weighing-in for Jacques Villeneuve. And all at Milton Keynes should line up alongside David Coulthard and cry, "Thank God for that!"