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Thoughts on Michael Schumacher

Jordan

Michael Schumacher in the Jordan, Spa 1991

The BBC has a page of quotations on Michael Schumacher’s retirement. It makes interesting reading, particularly these examples:

“Where Schumacher cannot draw the right line is on track. He cannot see when he crosses the line between tough but fair, and ruthless but foul.

“That is exacerbated by his total belief that he cannot be wrong. He has a default mode in the car: if you’re going to pass him, he will drive you off the road. He even did it to me as a team-mate.”
Martin Brundle, former Benetton team-mate

“We will miss him a little bit as a driver. We will miss him a lot in the football matches.”
Jarno Trulli, Toyota driver

“The last stars I saw in F1 were (Ayrton) Senna and, even if he won only one world championship, Jacques Villeneuve. If we want, we could also add (Juan Pablo) Montoya. Now, instead, we have only champions.”
Flavio Briatore, Renault boss, who led the Benetton team with which Schumacher won his first two titles

The last two are notable for what they don’t say, Trulli shying away from assessment of Michael’s career and Briatore making a point by omission of Michael from his list of stars. And I am aware that I have chosen three quotes against the man whereas there are plenty that support him.

I have always admitted that I am no fan of Michael Schumacher’s; I can see the driving skills and the smooth public utterances but, somehow, I have never liked him. Aware that my view is bound to be colored by this dislike, I often try to define what causes it. And I think it goes right back to the beginning of Michael’s career in F1.

His first race was for Jordan at Spa in 1991 and we were all astounded that he managed to put the car into fourth spot on the grid. In those days we were all rooting for Jordan, the little team that seemed about to beat the big boys. So Michael started with an enormous amount of goodwill behind him and we were sorry to see him retire from the race with mechanical failure.

But then the rot set in. Flavio Briatore came along from Benetton with a wad of money in his hand and Michael went with him without a backward glance. Poor Eddie Jordan fought long and hard to keep his discovery but he was always going to lose against the Benetton financial muscle. Michael drove for Benetton from that moment and the rest is history.

It was a hard pill to swallow at the time, however. And, when Benetton started to give Michael everything he wanted, including compliant teammates, it just made things worse. By the time Michael drove into Damon Hill at Adelaide in 1994, thereby securing the first Schumacher championship, I could see the incident only as bad sportsmanship. Michael had wrecked his car through a miscalculation and had taken out his rival when the chance presented itself.

The same goes for every dubious incident that followed and there were many. If Schumacher was involved, my mind was already made up. I suspect that there are many who feel the same way (including, it would seem, the man who stole Michael from Jordan).

So it’s true that I never gave Michael much of a chance to redeem himself. But it is also true that he kept providing new instances where his sportsmanship looked very questionable. And that, if I’m honest, is why I do not consider him a great champion and why I hope that Alonso beats him again this year.

I can’t help it, I have to say it: Go Fernando!

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