Monday, October 23, 2006


I can’t let yesterday go by without doffing my hat to Michael Schumacher. He raced (and didn’t he race!) into what the record books will meaninglessly note as 4th place in his last Formula 1 race ever. Just looking at the numbers of his career however – Wins, points, pole positions, fastest laps etc – you’ve got to be uniquely impressed.

Everyone who rabbits on about him, including me, seems to sum him up as a “Flawed Genius”. And that’s what he is. One columnist got it dead right recently when he called him a “Villain”. That he was, and his incomparable drive to win, seemingly at any cost, can be seen as either an example of total focus for anyone looking to excel in anything, or a demonstration that if you don’t keep a real sense of proportion in your life, you can be seen as missing something vital in your personal make-up.

You choose.

But concentrate on the Genius bit for a minute. Without probably realising it, whenever an F1 race took place in the world, over the last 10 years, you always looked at what Schumacher was doing, and then compared everyone else against him. If you got anywhere near the man, you were doing alright. If not, well he was Schumacher, so you weren’t supposed to anyway. It’s quite amusing to see all the pundits who went head to head with him – Brundle, Blundell, Irving, Barrichello, rationalising the simple fact that he was capable of driving a racing car faster than them all, in every way other than the truth. Egos must be maintained!

He simply bestrode the World’s richest sport in a unique way for almost a generation.

And, for once in a sportsman, he was bright enough to hang up his boots when everyone was still clambering for more. You don’t need many fingers to tick off a comprehensive list of other sportsmen who have got that one right. Goodness knows what he’s going to do now – I don’t think even he knows yet. He just knows that now is the time. My own suspicions are that his name will not disappear completely from the Motor Racing scene, but I don’t think he will drive competitively again.

The real test of what he did for the sport is to look at what’s left now.

The fastest drivers on the grid today are Raikkonen and Alonso, but neither of them have Schumacher’s wily, political, devious and intellectual mind – the mind that can get a team like Ferrari to build their whole racing approach around one man. Alonso still displays a Spanish, mercurial, easy to dislodge temperament, and Raikkonen comes across as a brattish, monosyllabic (on his more loquacious days!) adolescent. Both of them excellent racers, not just drivers, but no match for Schumacher in the murkier and darker side of the Sport. The rest of the grid, perhaps with the exception of Button (jury still out) and possibly Kubica (too new) and Massa (let’s see him next year), come across simply as journeymen, scrabbling around for the lesser prizes.

It will be a great shame not to see the Red Baron pointing out in his slightly supercilious way how the others are not quite up to the task, ever again. But if you want an example of putting your Marks (or is it Euros now?) where your mouth is, just look at his final fling yesterday.

He clearly set out to finish with a race you were going to remember, win or lose. A puncture early on which dropped him a lap back, and then you saw a display of real driving when he pulled back all the lost time on everyone in the field other than his teammate. Yes, he probably had the fastest car, and yes, a couple of them let him through without much of a fight. But Raikkonen didn’t, and the move Schumacher pulled on him, 4 laps from the end of his racing career told the story completely – brilliant driving, real guts, great skill and and determination, and Never Give Up – what more do you want from someone who races cars for a living?

I will miss him tremendously.
Thanks Michael.

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