Michael Schumacher: The most divisive man in F1

Who is the most controversial man in F1? Is it Bernie Ecclestone with his bizarre comments about Hitler and Jewish black female drivers? Is it Max Mosley with his political posturing and Nazi German prisoner themed sex orgies? Nope — it’s Michael Schumacher.

When it was announced that Michael Schumacher was preparing to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari while the Brazilian convalesces, the great ideological gulf among F1 fans suddenly re-emerged. I can’t remember seeing such strong reactions on any issue about any subject, let alone F1.

For some people, Michael Schumacher might as well be Jesus. You could produce video evidence of him killing a kitten and he would still be the greatest man on earth. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t appreciate genius when they see it?

For others, there is nothing that can redeem Michael Schumacher. He is a serial cheat whose team-mates were all hamstrung and whose seven World Drivers’ Championships are among the least deserving ever awarded. You must surely see that he is the most evil man on earth?

My view is slightly more nuanced. He was a bit of both. His record speaks for itself, and he must take credit especially for his ability to build a team around him. But I hated the way he went about racing.

The Edge of Greatness cover Incidentally, for a fair-minded assessment of Michael Schumacher, I highly recommend James Allen’s book, The Edge of Greatness. I always thought James Allen as a commentator was too biased in favour of Schumacher, but his book displays a very measured and nuanced assessment of his qualities as a driver, and his failings as a sportsperson.

I must come straight out and say that I have never been a fan of Michael Schumacher. Never. And for me, his talent was tainted by his tendency to bend the rules whenever he had the slightest opportunity.

I don’t even rate him much as a racer. For me, his wheel-to-wheel skills were rather poor, and he disguised this by being overly aggressive. That was why he often panicked under pressure, such as at Jerez in 1997. If he found himself in the midfield, he sometimes had very clumsy races indeed — his botched move on Takuma Sato at Suzuka in 2003 springs to mind.

Schumacher was famous for relying on Ross Brawn strategies to “overtake in the pitlane” rather than try to make a genuine overtaking move. I highly doubt that Schumacher would have won as many Championships if refuelling wasn’t legal. I won’t lie: 2000–2004 were my least favourite years of watching F1 since I first fell in love with the sport in the mid-1990s.

Since Schumacher left F1 I do feel as though I have started to enjoy F1 a lot more. Even though some of the drivers are not perfect in terms of their adherence to the rules or their spirit of fair competition, it feels a lot less like a dark cloud such as Rascassegate will come rumbling over the hills at any moment.

Now, of course, he is back in F1 and it has changed again. It amuses me greatly that even weeks before his first grand prix back is due to start, he already sought ways to cheat, to unfairly gain an advantage over his competitors. It says it all about him in one action.

Williams are not my favourite team either, but they were totally right to block this blatant infringement of the rules. Just a couple of weeks before, Toro Rosso’s new driver Jaime Alguersuari was refused a similar request, and he did a perfectly adequate job. Quite why a supposedly great 7 times World Champion needs to practice so much is not clear to me.

Ferrari’s enormously arrogant statement in retaliation against the blocked request sums up why I can’t stand the team so much. Apparently they think the red rule should still exist. What happened to that spirit of cooperation they were supposedly so keen on? I guess now that the Concorde Agreement is signed, cordial relations are not so important any more.

It is clear that the testing rules need amending. I have been saying so for a long time now. But until a new set of rules are agreed upon, everyone needs to adhere to them, otherwise you may as well just rip the rulebook up (some would argue Ferrari have ripped up the rulebook and written their own anyway).

This is all a sign that Michael Schumacher does not intend to simply go through the motions. I had wondered quite what was in this comeback for Schumacher. I saw easily why Ferrari were interested. But what could possibly have motivated Schumacher?

After all, he potentially has so much to lose. With his wife and kids — and we know his wife is concerned because he says he has made an “arrangement” with her that health is the top priority — he surely doesn’t want to be doing something so dangerous. He cannot possibly need the money, and he certainly doesn’t have anything else to prove (unless he wants somehow to prove that he can be a good sportsperson, but that opportunity has already been shot).

He also risks being embarrassed because of his waning ability. At 40, he is the oldest driver to compete in F1 since Nigel Mansell in 1995, and let us not forget that Mansell’s last period as an F1 driver was not exactly a roaring success. And after two and a half years out of competitive grand prix racing, there is every chance that he will be rusty during his forthcoming races.

But now we know what motivates him — it is his sheer, ruthless competitiveness. He may have initially agreed out of “loyalty” to Ferrari, but once he’s a driver again he is up to the same old tricks, looking for the slightest advantage wherever it may come from.

Of course, many would say that this is what sets him apart from everyone else.

14 comments

  1. To quibble with your wording, not your conclusion: I think it’s not “sheer, ruthless competitiveness”. People who really adore competition don’t whine about rules, and don’t dictate strategy to their competitors (as with Baricello’s “hamstring” Ferrari contract). Schumacher’s was dominance and victory, not rivalry. It’s more than a little ironic that a guy with so much passion can’t see how this aggression devalues the achievement.

    Schumacher’s not a monster. He’s done a lot of charitable things, and nobody ever saw him stealing lunch money from the nuns, and he’s said the right things in a sport where men have been killed and maimed alongside him.

    But I agree with you about his place in the sport, and grateful that you mentioned parking at Rascasse: He deserves to be remembered for that, and I’m glad this returned happened after Monaco. It’s good not to have been paying attention during his years of supremacy. This cameo is just something nice to talk about.
    ______

    PS- Does anyone recall the source of a list of all-time great drivers in which Schu was listed as 11th? This rang true for me, and it would be nice to have as a citation.

  2. Add me to the list of the “evil” type please. I neither think he (was) is an outstanding driver nor a great sportsman. As it has been pointed elsewhere, he always had that dirty move on the bag to compensate his flaws.
    However, with his return, I have begun to feel pity for him. Returning in this case only means that he can live without competing and that’s sad. He should be enjoying his money and family, rather than exposing himself to the dangers of F1 driving.

  3. Your column didn’t shoot at Schumacher’s foot, you shooted straigh at his head. I have to say that I’ve never been Schu’s fan, and that 2005-06 were one of my favorite seasons in F1 since late 80’s. Having said that I think the good and bad things about Schu’s F1 career is a demonstration of how human, normal human being he is. His driving skills are as good as any other successful racer in recent F1 history but remember in F1 the racer makes maybe 30% of the success. The unique combination of Schu along with a support driver, byrne, Brawn, Todt, etc. made a tremendous impact for 5 seasons in a row….and that’s difficult to achieve again. The success of Schu was first and foremost a team success… a demonstration that you don’t need “the best” racer to win WCs; you need a complete, competitive, agressive team to become successful.
    His merit relies on grasping the oportunity and make things happen; by racing, by subordinating fellow drivers, by bending the rules, by using PR, etc.
    People love him, people hate him; it part of the burden he has to deal for being a record-breaker for lacking of an impecable sportmanship…..Can another team repeat the feat? very unlikely. Schu’s records will stay on the books for a long, long time

  4. He gets to drive an F1 car again, the rest noise to him it seems.

    I would do the same, just wouldnt care if it damages my reputation.

  5. Hey doctorvee, dont get scared of Schumi. Anyways he is gonna to win atleast 3 to 4 races this season.No one in the history of F1 had every executed the ‘overtake in the pitlane’ strategy in an impeccable manner like Schumi. Dont you agree with that,doctorvee? F1 racing is not about genuine overtaking its about winning a GP. Michael has done so many time and he is a seven times F1 WC. Doctorvee, better go for a doctor checkup and then cum and talk about Schumi.

  6. Hi Duncan. Great post about the tricker. But, i´m still waiting to read your thoughts about the Hungarian GP…

  7. I know Becken. Sorry about that — so much to write and so little time! It will be the next thing I write about, probably tonight.

  8. I don`t ever think that Michael is, what many of you critics have made him out to be. He has contributed hugely to the sport in many aspects, not just on the track. His record speaks for itself, he deserves all the credit, because he has worked very hard to achieve all he has. He has proved himself to be the best F1 driver ever and that stupid rating of 11th is based on certain aspects that suits these critics nicely. I have watched Michael drive since the 1st time he got into the Jordan Ford and he has dominated all his teammates, because he had the skill, will and desire to succeed, not because of cheating. He is a hard racer and F1 is not for little babies. Senna blatantly said that he will take out his partner (Prost) if he was infront of him into the 1st corner at Suzuka after they qualified 1st and 2nd respectively. Low and behold, he knocked his own partner off the track, thereby he took himself out as well. After Eddie Irvine overtook Senna while he was a back marker, he got upset and punched Eddie in the face after the race. Is this the behaviour of one of the greatest drivers, if not the greatest according to some? Michael had one of the most modest personalities and stayed out of the limelight, but no nobody gives him credit for the real person he is.

    Get a life all of you detractors… his achievement and skill speaks volumes.

  9. Padvark, do you remember Spa 98? I seem to recall someone becoming quite violent then… The behaviour of one of the greatest drivers?

  10. >>It amuses me greatly that even weeks before his first grand prix back is due to start, he already sought ways to cheat, to unfairly gain an advantage over his competitors. It says it all about him in one action.<<

    How is this cheating? He, Ferrari, whoever asked the other teams if they could do this. Some agreed to this, some didn't. How is this cheating? How is trying to get some time in the new car an unfair advantage over his competitors who have been driving their cars all season. This one line makes your entire article suspect.

  11. Stirling — Apologies for my late reply. For some reason your comment was sent to the anti-spam list, and it was lucky I even saw it as I tried to retrieve Becken’s comment.

    My answer to your point is simply seeking to break the rules is looking for a way to cheat. In fact, I can’t think of any other definition of the word “cheat”. If Williams asked if their cars could, for instance, break the pit lane speed limit, that would be seeking to cheat too. And they would rightly be told where to stick their idea!

  12. I don’t think that asking the other teams if it’s ok to get some time in the car is cheating. In fact, I think it’s the smart thing to do and Jaime Alguersuari should have been given the same opportunity. It’s a stupid and unwise rule.

    I don’t agree with your idea that asking to be able to operate outside the rules is cheating. Operating outside the rules and not telling anyone is cheating.