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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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Imola, Hockenheim and Istanbul

With the release of the FIA’s timetable for 2007, the focus has changed to circuits. Imola and Hockenheim are missing from the schedule, as expected, but both are still hoping to stage Grands Prix one way or another.

The organizers of the San Marino GP are pinning their hopes on the completion of required renovations to the Imola track before a race date in April. The existence of a four-week gap at that point in the schedule makes this seem possible. Although it would seem to contradict the FIA’s intention to reduce each participating nation to one GP, it may be that Imola will get a reprieve until some other country (India?) is ready to host one.

Imola

Imola

Things look much bleaker for Hockenheim. In its new, truncated form, it is not the most popular of circuits and the organizers’ attempt to alternate the GP with the Nurburgring seems more optimistic now that the circuit has been omitted from the FIA schedule. Increasingly, it appears that the circuit will just be quietly forgotten in the future.

Politics appears likely to do for the Istanbul race. The Turkish selection of Northern Cyprus’ leader to hand the trophy to Felipe Massa on the podium was both a deliberate political statement and a monumental blunder. Circuits have been dropped for less.

The FIA is taking the matter seriously after protests from the governments of both Cyprus and Greece, and is investigating the matter. With their determination to remain politically neutral, the banning of the Turkish GP seems inevitable, and rightly so. F1 should never be used for the political purposes of any country.

The wonderful new circuit at Istanbul Park may be lost to F1 therefore. That will be a great shame but is more than compensated for by the return of Spa-Francorchamps, indisputably the greatest circuit on the modern calendar. And it gives additional impetus to Imola’s prospects for survival. The loss of the Turkish GP would reduce the schedule to 16 races only and there would definitely be a good reason to keep the San Marino GP in that case.

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YouTube and F1

In this three-week period between Grands Prix when nothing is happening and news gets thin on the ground, those of us suffering from F1 withdrawal symptoms can get some relief by delving into history at YouTube. This is a fantastic resource if you’re looking for old video clips of great races or drivers. Just enter the name in the search bar and, if the videos are there, they will show up in the results.

Here are three I found in a few minutes digging this morning:

A lap of Monaco with Senna. Who better to drive you through the streets of the principality than the master himself?

Senna holds back Mansell at Monaco in 1992. Mansell had a commanding lead until having to change tires ten laps from the end, allowing Senna in the uncompetitive McLaren to move to the front. The Williams was so much the quicker car that Mansell was able to catch Senna with three laps to go. The problem then was the minor matter of getting by him…

Hakkinen versus Schumacher at Spa. It’s a fair old battle but the real reason I include this one is that it has a wonderful in-car shot of the Eau Rouge corner, taken at full speed.

There are quite a lot of repeats amongst the videos as the most popular ones get copied again and again, but this is a sure pointer to something worth watching. And, every now and then, it is possible to stumble across a gem, a clip of some great moment remembered vividly from the past and now presented once more for our delight. How about this, for instance:

A compilation of highlights from 1967. All the old names are here and the cars as well. But look at the circuits – can you see any run-off zones or armco? They were brave men indeed, although I suspect the guy waving the flag at the start and end of the race was the bravest of them all!

Jim Clark

Jim Clark

Enjoy!

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Auf Wiedersehen, Hockenheim

As the owners fight to keep Hockenheim on the F1 calendar, perhaps in rotation with the Nurburgring, is there no-one who sees the irony in the fact that they have just emasculated the circuit in true modern fashion? It was never the most exciting circuit in the world, but at least it had those long blasts into the atmospheric German forests; now they are gone in the interests of safety and we are left with the usual twiddly bits surrounded by grandstands.

Hockenheim

The Hockenheimring

Did I say “safety”? Hasn’t anyone noticed that accidents are not caused by going fast in a straight line? They happen in corners, exactly those things that we sprinkle in abundance into modern circuits. But it’s too late for Hockenheim to point this out; the deed is done and now the FIA comes with the axe. Never mind that the organizers were probably counting on the proceeds from future GPs to help pay for the “improvements”.

It was inevitable that one of the two German races would have to go, however (and Imola, of course). With countries lining up with wads of cash in their hands, desperate to have a GP, those countries with two GPs were always going to be the ones to lose. And no-one was ever fooled by talk of the “European” and “San Marino” GPs; we knew it was just a way of giving more than one to the favored nations.

And now it seems that European countries have dropped off the favored list. Whoever bids highest can have a race and, increasingly, that means the Far East. If we lose some of the most famous and best loved circuits in the world to be replaced by more sterile and “safe” chicane-fests, who cares as long as the FIA gets richer still?

Surely there has to be a limit somewhere. It’s all very well taking the money for new races in Asian countries but can it last? They may be huge markets but surely not for the stuff F1 is selling (especially with the ban on cigarette advertising). China still gets around on a bicycle and India walks. How many extra BMWs, Renaults and Toyotas are going to sell in those countries thanks to their having GPs? The races there are PR exercises only and, as such, can be guaranteed not to last for long.

I can only presume that the FIA doesn’t care. Now that they have the habit, they can shut down any GP and sell a new one as and when they please. And the sport becomes a mobile circus without tradition or soul, for sale to whoever bids the most.

Sometimes I think Montoya was right – that F1 will end up racing on ovals so we might as well go straight to NASCAR. The only bright spot on the horizon is the return of Spa next year. For how long, I wonder.

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