Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Michael Schumacher Problem

Michael Schumacher is statistically the most successful driver in the history of F1 and he could also be the best driver to have ever raced. Of course a few would always counter that there have been others like Juan Manuel Fangio, Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna who could have been better than Schumacher but comparing drivers of different era is tough and the sheer success rate of Schumacher makes his probably the greatest ever driver. Prost and Senna finished their careers when Schumacher was starting his but Prost and Senna always raced for the best of teams. Prost left Renault as he could not win the championship with them while his rivalry with Senna caused him to move out of McLaren. He spends just 2 seasons with Ferrari and took a sabbatical from the sport only to re-join a year later to win his final championship with Williams. Senna after some good drives with Lotus joined McLaren as it was the most dominant team in the late 80’s while left the team to join Williams as they started dominating the sport but unfortunately he dies in a horrific crash at the San Marino Grand Prix.

Prost and Senna are good drivers provided they have good cars and neither have not gone on to build a team like Schumacher has done it. Prost and Senna are no angels on the track as they also had their run of incidents and Senna if not for his death on the track is no stranger to controversies and he has in fact been involved in quite a bit of fist fights for on track incidents. Before Schumacher joined Benetton, the team was good but never good enough to win titles. He ended up winning 2 championships with the team and was fighting for race wins right from his 1st full season with the team. He made the team dominate the sport for 2 seasons where they decimated teams like McLaren and Williams. He then joined Ferrari and when he joined the team, the team had not any titles since 1984 and in the 5 year period before he joined the team won 2 races in that period. Schumacher build the team and ensured that they became one of the most dominant team of that era. The Schumacher led Ferrari won 5 driver’s championship and 6 constructor’s championships. Their worst finish in that period was finishing 3rd in 2005. Schumacher won an astonishing 72 races in 11 seasons with Ferrari. He is not only the world’s greatest driver but also the best support driver as Eddie Irvine would say as during the 99 season, Schumacher broke his leg and missed 6 races which ruled him out for the season but he came back and ensured that he provided all the support for the Irishman who went on to lose the title by just 2 points. That was the year Ferrari won his first constructor’s championship since 1983.

There have been fast drivers like Kimi Räikkönen, Jacques Villeneuve, and Lewis Hamilton who went on to win titles with a fast car but no one else have built a team around them and turned the fortunes of a team so much that he became synonymous with the team itself. Though Ferrari could have been hasty in putting in Kimi for the 2007 season which resulted in Schumacher retiring from the sport after a stunning drive at the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2006. It could have been a bit premature as he had a few years left in the tank. He did test the Ferrari cars and was their consultant till 2009 but then Schumacher was used to racing not watch it from the side-lines but Massa’s accident nearly resulted in him making a comeback last year for Ferrari but then when Button left Brawn and when Mercedes took over the team they needed a world champion and Schumacher answered Brawn’s call as his association with Brawn is even longer than his association with Ferrari and Brawn has been instrumental in all his championships.

We should remember that Schumacher has been out of F1 for 3 seasons and a lot of changed. The current field is one of the most talented fields ever while another factor is that the Mercedes team in its previous avatars as BAR and Honda has produced some disastrous cars. Brawn GP though ran on low budgets their car was in development for over 2 years and Honda has put in close to half a billion on that car. It is not that Schumacher is struggling while his teammate is winning but despite the reasonable start that Rosberg had when Schumacher was still getting used to the car it has not been as big as a disaster as some sections of the media are portraying. Schumacher did have his worst ever finish in Valencia on a track where he has never raced before but then he was also an unlucky victim of FIA’s flawed safety car rules. Had that not been the case he could have even been on the podium and the Schumacher comeback story would have taken a different turn. In 2009 while Button was winning races his teammate Barrichello was not even on the podium on regular basis but here Rosberg is not exactly doing wonders apart from his early good run. Rosberg has never truly beaten Schumacher and the good old Schumacher may not be back as long as they don’t provide him with a good car. Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari are miles ahead and even Renault is catching up. Last weekend at the European Grand Prix saw Williams and Force India showing stronger pace then Mercedes.

If Mercedes do improve then the old Schumacher should be back and with the likes of German, Belgian and the Italian GP’s to go, these tracks have been special to him and we could even expect a win but knowing how the development has gone for this season for Mercedes, that may just not happen. Schumacher’s comeback given the situation and car has been very good for a 41 year old drivers competing with men half his age but then he should not give up so easily and even if he manages to win races that would cap off as a remarkable comeback as this was the team who used to produce some of the worst cars on the grid during the BAR/Honda era. Brawn is one man and he could not change much but the team should focus on 2011 and just use this season for Schumacher to warm up as if the car is developed for him and if the team is able to produce a car which is even half good as the Brawn GP car of 2009 then he can challenge the likes of Red Bull, McLaren and his old team Ferrari. The real Schumacher will be back only if he has a car to drive with the current car even the likes of Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton, the 3 best drivers of this new era will fail to challenge for wins leave alone score points regularly.

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