A black day for F1? I think not

A strange article has appeared on Pitpass this evening. Pitpass does often like to emphasise how Formula 1 is always shooting itself in the foot, and often it has a point. But I just don’t understand this article. “A black day for Formula One”? Well it’s been interesting to say the least, but I’d hardly say it has been a black day. Sending a driver to the back of the grid for cheating is hardly up there with the likes of Indygate, which was a real black day for F1.

Given that the article was only posted after the stewards’ decision was announced, and not after Michael Schumacher’s incident on track, I assume that the beef is with the stewards. But I think, given that the stewards have decided that Schumacher has cheated, sending him to the back of the grid is an apt punishment.

So the question is: were the stewards right to say that Schumacher cheated? Well, the initial reaction seemed to be overwhelming. When Schumacher drifted off line and the yellow flag situation came about, it was immediately obvious that every other driver on the track was going to be unable to set a fast time. My gut instinct at the time was, “How convenient. I bet he did that on purpose.”

Seconds later, Flavio Briatore appeared on screen shaking his head. After the commercial break the anchormen were suggesting that Schumacher deliberately caused the yellow flag situation. The commentators were saying that he could have completed the corner. Pat Symmonds was on his way to complain. Schumacher, in a performance which has been described as “nervous” and “sheepish”, faced hostile questioning in the press conference, while Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber made their feelings clear.

In fact, drivers up and down the pitlane have commented with varying degrees of anger. It is not unusual to hear drivers throwing around various accusations about deliberately holding up, brake testing and suchlike. But these are usually individual one-off spats between two drivers. It certainly is unusual for such a range of drivers to say the same thing: How convenient for Michael Schumacher to spin on the last corner, thereby preventing his rivals who were threatening his position from completing their laps.

Only on the internet has anybody dared to defend Michael Schumacher — glory hunting pseudo-tifosi who are unquestioningly loyal to their hero Schumi to the point of being blind.

Of course, you could argue it the other way. So many people are ready to pounce on Michael Schumacher whenever there’s a hint of suspicion that he has done something wrong. That may be so. But my response has to be: are you surprised? With a track record like Michael Schumacher’s, it would be naive not to consider the possibility that he cheated.

  • Adelaide 1994 — deliberately crashed into Hill to win the World Championship
  • Jerez 1997 — deliberately crashed into Villeneuve attempting to win the World Championship
  • Silverstone 1998 — took a farcical stop–go penalty after the chequered flag was shown
  • Austria 2002 — a farcical last-minute switch of positions on the final corner for the sake of a few points for Schumacher, leaving a seriously bitter taste in the mouth
  • Indianapolis 2002 — a supposed attempt at a so-called “manufactured dead heat” going wrong, leaving another seriously bitter taste in the mouth

It is true that not all of these incidents can be described as cheating. But there are common themes uniting them all: contempt for the spirit of racing; contempt for the spectators; greedily gaining a few points at any cost, even if it makes the team and the sport as a whole look ridiculous. This has sullied the reputation of Ferrari and even more so that of Michael Schumacher.

My father pointed out to me that it is rather hypocritical of Flavio Briatore to complain given that he was running Benneton when Schumacher drove for them in 1994. But Benetton weren’t (and Renault aren’t) compulsive rule-benders in the sense that Ferrari sometimes seem to be. The German may be an amazing driver who holds every record worth taking, but I have a feeling that the history books will remember him more for the farcical incidents — the delibrate crashes and cynical team orders — than for his superficial collection of numbers.

So if we are agreed that the chances are that Michael Schumacher delibrately ran wide at la Rascasse — and the Pitpass article doesn’t make a judgement on this as far as I can tell — then how come “Formula One has suffered another massive blow to its credibility”?

I can’t think that it can be because the FIA disciplined a cheat. Surely that is the normal way to go about things? It certainly makes a nice change for the FIA not to be letting Ferrari get away with murder as usual.

Is it because of the length of time it took the stewards to make a decision? I’m not convinced. I can remember instances when drivers (Jacques Villeneuve?) were racing on appeal while they were waiting for a decision that took weeks to come through. I said in my post below that it was not surprising that the stewards were taking their time since the decision would have important repercussions. Surely it is better for them to make a considered decision slowly rather than a wrong decision hastily.

So is it because of the very fact that Michael Schumacher cheated? I hardly think so. Every sport has its cheats. I read one person compare today’s incident with the time David Beckham deliberately got himself booked so that he could be suspended for an unimportant game, cancelling his yellow card. Was that a dark day for football? Of course not. It was just a silly day for David Beckham.

Similarly, this is a silly day for Michael Schumacher. In my view that does not make it a dark day for Formula 1.

Update: GrandPrix.com: A landmark decision.

Linksheaven: A wonderful day for Formula 1. Heheh.


  1. Bullish Coulthard back on podium They say “David Coulthard brought some welcome humour on a dark weekend for Formula One.” We say A dark weekend for Formula One, or a dark weekend for Michael Schumacher?Another blog had some thoughts on this. Verdict [IMG] read article [IMG thesun] Headline Schu Fury: Angry Michael says sorry but hits out in cheat storm Coult’s a kit of all right They say “Finland

  2. Tommy Chang – Michael Schumacher: 7 Times World Champion and Cheater Formula 1 and Football – Schumi got what he deserved Sevenapril – An embarassing display The Garage – “He stopped on the track! What’s wrong with that?”Doctorvee – A black day for F1? I think not Famous last words of Marius – Did he cheat or did he not? Noel’s personal space – Monaco Grand Prix Short-sighted Sid – Is this racing at its finest? ‘Neutral’ FerrariWorld Felipe Massa blog

  3. That the abbreviated list of MSC transgressions!?
    I’m kinda surprised at Pitpass. But from reading (and posting on) their forums it’s clear that they’re pro-MSC. It’s disappointing that Chris’d write an article that appears to only complain about the verdict and punishment, and not the crime they were issued for. And that is my reading of the article – that the problem is with the stewards. Which is something I absolutely disagree with. Yes, they took a long time to reach a decision, but it was very much the right one.

  4. I thought it was odd, too. I mean, it’s not Indy ’05 is it? Also, they were suggesting that Ferrari would appeal which, in the terms of the article Schumacher was prosecuted under, they cannot do.

    I liked their piece bigging up Webber and Coulthard though – they both did a bang-up job out of the limelight.

  5. Spot on mate, that’s exactly what I was thinking. As soon as the yellows went out, I thought, that’s Schumacher cheating.

    At least it proves the stewards aren’t afraid to make tough decisions now.

  6. Just a few comments:
    1. If they wanted to cheat, Ferrari would have done it better. Crash the nose of the car and no one can argue that it wasn’t an accident, you can change it and you have no problem.
    2. Schumi was sheepish because he knew he made a stupid mistake and was ashamed.
    3. Austria 2002, Indianapolis 2002 and even Silverstone 1998 are not instances of cheating – they were within the rules. Remember, you have to do everything that the rules allow you to. Saying that it was against the spirit of the sport is naive (at least) – this is a business, and it’s not all up to him. There’s a corporation that needs to make money out of this. Coulthard let Mika Hakkinen pass him at Adeilaide, and J. Villeneuve let both of them pass him at Jerez 1997, after they held up Schumi so that they could win. No one seems to care about that.
    4. He tried to take out Hill and J.V. but such is the life of a F1 driver. Senna took out a lot of pilots and no one cares. Montoya made a lot of questionable moves and again, no one cares.
    5. Everybody is against him because he is the best. Simply the best. They envy him, wish they were him and are frustrated that, whatever they do, they can’t catch up. Simple. The drivers suffer from a severe case of God complex, and as such can’t live with the idea that someone is better than them.
    6. Don’t worry about his legacy, he’ll forever be remembered one of the best, if not the best, ever. The incidents mentioned above will be seen as prove of his intensity and desire to win – and as such they should be seen.

  7. 2006 Monaco Grand Prix…

    Well, that turned out to be not a bad race! Yesterday’s Schumacher incident provided an interesting talking point to frame the race in, and the race did threaten to become a procession at one point.
    In a way, it still was a procession, as Alonso …

  8. 1. It wasn’t Ferrari cheating, but MSC. And as I think it was a spur of the moment decision he didn’t have time to make it look like a proper accident.
    2. That was his guilty face. See Austria 02. If he’d made a mistake he should’ve had the manners to apologise to all the drivers whose laps he spoiled. (he’s has done so since, but only after seeing the reaction of everyone involved in the sport.)
    3. It’s perfectly possible to win without bending the rules. As MSC has done many, many times. Add Arg 98, Canada 98, Austria 2000, Silverstone 2003, Turkey 2005 to the list of questionable incidents. And that’s just off the top of my head.
    4. Such is not the life of an F1 driver. It’s the life of 2 drivers. It wasn’t acceptable when Senna did it, and it’s not acceptable when MSC did it. Many people won’t consider Senna as the greatest because of his actions. Same for MSC.
    5. People are against him because he is a poor role model for the sport. The drivers get frustrated that when they catch up MSC will cheat to stay ahead, and he usually gets away with it.
    6. He will be remembered as one of the best. No question, and he deserves to be. But the best? Nope. Imense talent, zero sportsmanship.

  9. I agree with you sentiments, a flawed genius who has behaved like this in the past. However, I don’t recall calls for Senna’s retirement after the Prost/Ferrari/Suzuka incident, a deliberate crash to “win” a championship.

    Flav crying foul is a little too rich, in 94/95 he was the loudest defender of MS. I get the feeling that Jacques venom is from the frustration of knowing that he shot himself in the foot with his own F1 career decisions.

    IMHO, unlike the Senna personality cult that can see no evil, MS’s legacy wil be tarnished in the public mind. Not from this one incident, but as part of a pattern. Pity, he really never had to pull these stunts considering his undoubted talent behind the wheel.

    I should admit more than a little bias in my thoughts, I have never forgiven him for Spain 97, & to be fair, the pathetic penalty awarded by the FIA.