In defence of Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP is interviewed by the media.  Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Montreal, Canada, Saturday 12 June 2010.

Michael Schumacher's comeback in the spotlight again after Canada performance

Jun.18 ( As eyes around the world were caught up watching the Red Bull shenanigans in Turkey, the self-appointed lead driver of Mercedes GP, Michael Schumacher, quietly rolled across the finish line with a decent fourth place finish, just ahead of his teammate Nico Rosberg.

Michael Schumacher in his office

Michael Schumacher in his office

This was the second time in the last three races that Schumi just missed getting onto the winner’s podium, so maybe this was the time to start asking: is the former seven time world champion finally finding his way back to top form?  Possibly a worthy discussion at the time, if not for the “Battle of the Bulls” that took the F1 headlines by storm.

And then came Montreal.  The German champ holds the record for no less than seven wins at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, so expectations for a legitimate comeback were high.  Maybe this was a bit of pipe dream for Mercedes GP, as even Ross Brawn admitted that the W01 was not another miracle car like the BGP 001.  Despite lacking the mechanical pace of McLaren, Red Bull, and Ferrari, the two Silver Arrows were lighting up the top half of the timing screens during first practice, with Schumi finishing the day with the second fastest lap.

Reality soon set in, with the McLarens and Red Bulls regaining their top dog status throughout practice and qualifying.  Michael was relegated to 13th on the grid, again outgunned by teammate Nico Rosberg, and also by the other Nico…the rookie from Williams!

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01  Formula One World Championship, Rd 8, Canadian Grand Prix, Race, Montreal, Canada, Sunday 13 June 2010.

Michael had a battle on his hands in Montreal

On race day Schumi was determined to make up for lost ground, but resolve sometimes deteriorated into desperation with several dodgy maneuvers in attempt to jump places or defend position.  One of them was a questionable move on Massa on the main straight which resulted in contact and damage on the Ferrari.  Michael’s actions were later reviewed by the FIA but he was exonerated of any wrong-doing.  Another situation involved a battle with Robert Kubica on lap 13.  The Renault won the racing line, forcing Schumacher into an unexpected off-road excursion through the grass.  This caused a front tyre puncture that sent the Mercedes limping back to the pits.

There have been some high profile complaints regarding these incidents, including BBC F1 analyst Martin Brundle who remarked during the race, “That was naughty again. This is Schumacher’s worst weekend since he came back.”

Incidents aside, there seemed to be plenty of damning evidence to support Brundle’s claim—most  notably when Schumi was overtaken towards the end of the race by the likes of Buemi, Liuzzi, and Sutil, which resulted in him just missing the points at 11th place.  Meanwhile, the other Silver Arrow coasted in at a respectable 6th position.

Michael took criticism for Montreal in his stride

Michael took criticism for Montreal in his stride

The world press piled on the criticism, but for every bad review there were hundreds of blogger fans responding in defense of their idol.  They quickly pointed out that the early incident with Kubica forced Schumacher to take an extra pit stop, which ruined his tyre strategy and ultimately doomed his race.

Michael agreed with them.  “Then I had a puncture on the front right tyre after my first pit stop, after I got together with Kubica, and that obviously decided my race.”

Now for the inevitable question: should Michael Schumacher scurry back to retirement with his tail between his legs?

Answer: absolutely not.  Love him or hate him, there are several good reasons to let him press on…

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP. Formula One World Championship, Rd 5, Spanish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Barcelona, Spain, Saturday 8 May 2010.

Things changed in F1 during Michael's three year absence

The first reason is logical, but not critical to the overall argument, and it goes something like this: “It has been three years, for crying out loud!”  Formula One cars are the most evolved breed of racing automobile, with technical upgrades applied at every single Grand Prix.  The machines we will see in Abu Dhabi will not be the same ones that started the season in Bahrain.  Given the speedy rate of metamorphosis, imagine what has occurred since 2006.  The rules have changed as well.  When Schumi left the sport there was re-fueling, grooved tyres, higher revs, and in-season practice (to name just a few).

Also consider that when Schumacher started with Ferrari back in 1996, it took him four years to build the team around him (bringing in his old Benetton chums Rory Byrne and Ross Brawn) to finally make a successful run at the driver’s championship.  Michael doesn’t just drive the car; he gets involved with every aspect of team development.  At 41 years old he doesn’t have the luxury of time as before, but it is understandable if Mercedes GP won’t be ready to be a contender until 2011.

Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP MGP W01 crashes out at turn 8 at the end of qualifying. Formula One World Championship, Rd 7, Turkish Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Istanbul Park, Turkey, Saturday 29 May 2010.

Schumi trying hard in Turkey qualifying

Second reason: Schumi is still a fighter.  So much so that he is even making life difficult for his own teammate by commandeering team development of the W01 to better suite his driving style.  His tactics are feisty, even malicious.  His first championship in 1994 (with Benetton) was earned by an act of sabotage, deliberately driving into Damon Hill at Adelaide to keep the Briton from scoring.  Michael then attempted something very similar on Jacques Villeneuve at Jerez in 1997, but the Canadian survived the contact, took the championship, and the German was disqualified from the driver’s championship for unsportsmanlike conduct.

(L to R): Michael Schumacher (GER) Mercedes GP with Fernando Alonso (ESP) Ferrari. Formula One World Championship, Rd 1, Bahrain Grand Prix, Practice Day, Bahrain International Circuit, Sakhir, Bahrain, Friday 12 March 2010.

Schumi versus Fernando Alonso rivalry renewed

During this season Schumi caught Alonso sleeping on the last lap at Monaco and jumped past him just after the safety car retired (the FIA later ruled against him).  He employed a cheeky defense flick at Massa and had a failed scrap with Kubica in Canada.  Going back to the Chinese GP, we saw Hamilton and Alonso both pulling similar stunts.  What’s the difference regarding their actions?  They’re contenders.  Winning races changes attitudes.

The final and most important reason: the Michael Schumacher X-factor.  Maybe you’re a big fan of Alonso or Barrichello, and you absolutely despise the whole über-hyped German legend…but do you really want Schumacher to retire?  Isn’t it better to have Michael in the mix so that Fernando and Rubens can take their shots at him?

Last year the F1 world was salivating at the prospect of having Michael return to the cockpit.  Now’s he back and again up to his armpits in controversy.  With only 34 championship points to his name thus far, Schumacher still commands the headlines.  I say, unless he starts getting passed by Chandok or Senna, let him keep driving and keep giving all of us something to talk about.

That’s the F1 circus. That’s entertainment.

  • Bec

    He’s not doing a bad job, just not as good a job as Nico, and that’s even after the car was altered away from Nico’s liking, to be more Schumi friendly.

  • Marco

    Always good to see two sides to a story but this does not convince me: plain and simple Schumacher has not adapted to modern F1, his ability to influence the team remains but obviously he has taken them in the wrong direction and ruined Rosberg’s season which started very strongly.
    Sure thinking of having Schumacher around was very exciting but he has not delivered and the novelty is over.

  • rantsonf1

    @marco, He has outdone his teammate in Spain, Turkey, and Monaco. He would have easily placed ahead of his teammate in Canada was it not for the puncture.

    @Marco Learn the facts and stop the BS

    Re the Kubica accident, Brundle and everyone else does not like to mention that Kubica did not make the corner either. Since Kubica had the inside line, Schumacher couldn’t turn into the corner because he would have T-boned Kubica.

    Kubica was the one driving like a madman, just look at cutting in front of Sutil..

    Next year, hopefully Merc will get new engineers and develop something besides a dog of a car!!