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Nice Guys Don’t Win

I had high hopes of Heinz-Harald Frentzen being the man to stop the Schumacher rot in F1. When he first arrived, it was said that Heinz-Harald had been faster than Michael in both German F3 and the Mercedes Benz sportscar team. After Senna’s death in 1994, Michael began his dominance of the sport and, in looking about for a possible pretender to his throne, I remembered the rumors of Frentzen’s ability and watched him closely.

The problem was that Frentzen did not yet have the machinery to compete with the best cars. In his years with Sauber he showed flashes of brilliance but was never in with a chance of providing Schumacher with serious competition. With his move to Williams in 1997, however, I thought we were about to see his true potential.

All we got was a win in San Marino and a few podium places. Frentzen’s team mate, Jacques Villeneuve, won the title that year and I was left wondering what had happened. It turned out that Heinz-Harald had not felt at home in the team and had quickly become discouraged.

The following year he went to the cosy environment of the Jordan team and suddenly Frentzen was ignited again. He won in France and Italy. Later the Jordan team became disenchanted and Heinzie spent his last few years in F1 looking for a competitive drive but never finding one.

So what went wrong? In the end, we have to conclude that it was character that made the difference. Frentzen was nothing if not a nice guy and the sad fact is that he proved the old axiom that nice guys don’t win.

Heinz-Harald

Heinz-Harald Frentzen

Consider how Michael Schumacher would have handled things had he been in Frentzen’s position. Would he have struggled on quietly with Williams, as Frentzen did when he felt that he was not getting the support of the team (quite likely, as many in the team resented the fact that he had replaced the much-liked Damon Hill)? No, Michael would have insisted and by half-season would either have owned the team or be in another car.

This really is the secret of Michael’s success. He is not interested in being liked and keeps his eye on the main chance. When he went to Ferrari, he did so with the express intention of winning championships for them. Within a couple of years and by sheer determination, he had created an entirely new and professional outlook in the once-chaotic Italian team. The result was the dominance of Ferrari for years.

Like him or loathe him, you have to respect Michael. He delivers the goods, even if his methods are a little questionable at times. And Frentzen was never that intent upon being the best that he would do anything to get there. He may well have been the equal of or faster than Michael in the same machinery; the trouble was that his nice guy character prevented him from getting the best machinery.

Heinzie has left the hothouse atmosphere of F1 now and competes in the German Touring Car Championship. Others have come along and shown that Michael can be beaten. And the two brightest stars, Alonso and Raikkonen, have shown some of Schumacher’s ruthless touch, Alonso not hesitating to leave the championship team when presented with a better offer, and Raikkonen happy to wait for the best deal before making up his mind.

But, of them all, who would you choose to have as a friend?

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