Write Better English - Day 9

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Most people perceive Michael Schumacher as a 'flawed genius' but, as Tony Dodgins points out, it was some of his flaws that made him a genius.

I suspect that, personally speaking, Interlagos '06 is going to feel just like Adelaide '93.

Michael Schumacher, where to start?

I'd known Bertrand Gachot pretty well since the mid eighties. He'd been resposible for near hear failure on a Staines street one day when the scream of a tortured engine gave way to tyre squel and Bert hand-braked an Alfa 33 to a stop about six inches from where I stood. I dropped my king-size bag of cat litter, which apilled all over the road, to his great amusement.

He could be engaging and ever so slightly unhinged, all at the same time. I wasn't at all surprised that he'd cut up a London cabbie, nor that he'd emptied a canister of CS gas into the face of the hacked off Eric Court. But I was as shocked as Bertrand when the judge declared that he should spend 18 months at the pleasure of HM the Q. Which opened the door at Jordan for M. Schumacher.

The sportscar crowd already knew about Michael. There were stories about the Merc boys trying to calm him down when he lapped Le Mans six seconds quicker than Jochen Mass in the same car. About them trying to explain that the race was 24 hours, not 24 seconds, and Michael replying that he hasn't really been trying and could drive like that for 24 weeks. Poor Jochen's thoughts were not recorded.

The same week as the Gachot furore, Derek Warwick needed restraining when he wanted to tear Michael limb from limb. Schuey was trying to eke a second Nurburging qualifying lap our of a set of tyres when Del Boy, on his warm-up lap, inadvertently held him up. Michael's frustrated response was to pull across and side-swipe the Jag's nose as he went by, damaging both cars.


He was driving alongside Nelson Piquet, a three-time world champion now into his 13th full season in Formula One. It turned out to be his last. Nelson was stunned by Michael's qualifying speed and, given his inexperience, didn't understand from where it came.

At Monza, Esteril, Barcelona and Suzuka, Michael was 0.4 seconds quicker on average. Only Adelaide remained. Pat Symonds remembers Nelson being so determined to outqualify Michael that he abandoned working on a race set-up altogether. Nelson beat Michael by a couple of tenths.

"He was absolutely jubilant," Symonds remembers, "and Michael just stood there with a strange grin on his face."

"What's the matter?" Nelson asked.

"Oh nothing. Just missed a gear and went a bit off-line," Michael said.

Piquet thought Schumacher was winding him up but Symonds had a peek at the telemetry and confirmed it was true.

"How much did it cost him?" Piquest asked.

Symonds hasn't had the heart to tell him. "You just don't want to know," he said.

I've got to admit that Ayrton Senna had always been a bit of a hero figure to me, as well as countless millions of others. Obviously there were those who questioned the ethics and ruthlessness, just as there would be with Michael in time, but he had an aura.

There was no question that Ayrton was The Man. But, with Michael's emergence, there was no doubt either that he would not have things his own way.


When Schumacher joined Ferrari they weren't ready for him. How he won three races in the'96 car nobody will ever know, especially Irvine, the man in the other one. In Barcelona that year he was outstanding. Ok, he had a spare car with a full wet set-up, but that's like saying Tiger Woods has a graphite driver. There's still a bit to do.

I remember going to Mugello that year to interview Michael. It struck me how the mechanics were almost in awe of the man. Irvine, by contrast, was just there. It was June and they still hasn't got around to making the guy a decent seat.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Eddie said when I arrived at around 11am. "You're going to be here a good while. He doesn't stop running till about 8pm. Or whenever it gets dark." He wasn't wrong.

About nine hours later, Michael finally stepped out of the Ferrari. And headed for a debrief. I think it was about 9pm when he emerged and apologised. He got someone to drive my hire car back to his hotel while I jumped in alongside him and did the interview as he drove.

I've always believed that the world champion should be a special driver, not a man who happens across the best car. Granted, good drivers tend to find themselves in good cars, but I hate to see someone who is so obviously better, constantly thwarted, even if it is a fact of motor racing life.

To me, therefore, it's a bit of a travesty when someone comes straight into F1 in the best car and wins. It's like they've become the boss without serving an appreticeship. And, yes, I know that happens in life too ...


Sure, he turned into Villeneuve. But put it into context. You've faught out 17 races on five continents over the past seven months and it's come down to the last 20 laps. The final pitstops have been made and there's one stint to go. The world championship is at stake. Everyone knows how difficult it is to pass in Formula One. It simply isn't going to happen without a robust move.

Villeneuve, all credit to him, pulled it off. If Schumacher had given him room, it's highly doubtful that JV would have made it by without contact with the Ferrari. Schumacher initially claimed that Jacques tried to use him as a brake. That was laughed our of court by majority in the pressroom when in-car footage showed Michael delibrately turning right into the Williams.

But why was it such a surprise that Schumacher did that? Anyone who has driven at a basic level - karting, Formula Ford - knows that if someone muscles up your inside, going too quickly, and hits you, you are the one who goes off, or at least gets a load of muck on your tyres while the other guy stays on. That's why people close the door.

Ok, the anti-Schumacher lobby will say, if Michael thought Jacques wasn't going to make the corner, why didn't he jink left instead of right and allow the Williams to outbrake itself and go off on the outside?

There's no doubt what he wishes he'd done but, faced with such a late move and caught by surprise, Schumacher tried to have the contact at a point that compromised him least and Villeneuve most. Entirely natural, I'd have said. But of course, when he tried to point out that he's reacted naturally, his detractors said, rather cheaply, that it was because his natural instinct was foul play.

Excerpt from Autosport Weekly Journal - Dodgy Business.