Paul Fearnley's Off the line


After all those GP wins (I bet even he couldn’t list them), poles, fastest laps, laps led, miles led, points (his tally is a half-decent pinball score), fastest sector times, devastating in and out-laps, you’d have thought that Michael Schumacher would be weary of the F1 slog. Not so.

You’d have thought, too, that he would have come up with a new celebration by now. But although you can criticise his lack of imagination, you cannot but be impressed that his podium jump is as spring-heeled as it ever was.

I don’t know why, given his global status, financial security and contented family life, but I worry for him. There is no doubt that he continues to set the F1 pace because he loves to set the F1 pace, and because he still has the ability and opportunity to do so. But in the back of my mind (and his?) lies a nagging doubt: does he also continue because he can’t think of what he might do after the balls-out laps have stopped?

For let’s face it, he’s been karting since he was knee-high to Jochen Mass. Yet his idea of relaxation away from F1 is — karting. In 2001, he tackled a round of the FIA Super A World Championship at the track where it all began for him: Kerpen. In these days of specialisation, it’s rare for a big name to stick his neck out in this way. But Schumacher was happy to dice with the latest batch of wannabe hims. And he had a whale of a time, crashing out of the first heat and finishing runner-up in the second. Whatever else Signore Sauro Cesetti does in the sport — chances are he won’t be matching Schuey’s boggling F1 stats — he can tell his grandchildren that he once beat the world’s best driver. And no doubt Schumacher warmly shook his conqueror’s hand. All healthy stuff.

Which is why I’m delighted that Michael has agreed to contest the Race of Champions on December 4. This is a long-established, end-of year, fun-but-serious event that sees a variety of drivers go head to head in a variety of cars. Schuey has never stepped so far out of his comfort zone — and it’s good to see.

He’s nothing to prove, of course. But equally, those who remember the days of Moss and Clark jumping from single-seater to sportscar to saloon car and driving them all with equal facility will no doubt be keeping an eye on his performances on the artificial course laid out around the Stade de France. Michael knows that, but doesn’t care. He just wants a bit of fun. All healthy stuff.

The event’s new format — a grippier (but still slippery) surface, a separation of racers and rallyists until the closing stages, the choice of cars (it includes Ferrari 360s) — smacks of looking after Number One. I’m not saying that he needs this — the event or the mollycoddling — but it can’t do him, or it, any harm.

Let’s just hope he has a ball. For such events are the antidote to F1 in 1994 and its ilk.