It was the charmlessness of it. Just imagine if junior partner Barrichello had swerved aside to allow the catalyst of the team’s renaissance his just deserts after four barren seasons.
True, Schumacher was the catalyst behind the renaissance of Ferrari, but that was over six years and 40 victories ago. Now he is the key component at the hub of a Big Red Machine. Surely such monotonous success should have cut him enough slack to do the decent thing in Austria and allow Banichello his just deserts? Instead, it seems to have fuelled his and Ferrari’s paranoia. They might not think it at the time, but a dose of inconsistency would do them no harm.
For me, Schumacher’s greatness does not lie with his win tally, the victories being so numerous now that they are beginning to blend, but in the fact that he has been ‘on it’ for every lap of his Formula One career. First out of the pits on a Friday, he storms by as if on a qualifying lap. And should he abort one of the latter, he rampages into the pits as Wit’s the most important thing he has ever done. And he has done so for 10 years. Not for him the gradual throttling back of a Lauda or a Prost; Schiunacher’s experience has only served to make him faster, push harder.
But at no stage has he stepped back and taken in the bigger picture. He has little interest in or knowledge of the history of the sport, which is a shame because it means he has been unable to put himself into context
He doesn’t need to win another championship to be remembered as a great. What would add to the sheen, however, are some flashes of magnanimity. For it’s sad that a handful of moments of madness will be remembered far longer than the majority of his victories.
We could perhaps just about forgive him Adelaide 1994, when he was scrapping tooth and nail for his first world title; Jerezgate ’97 less so, although he and Ferrari were still in the first flush of their relationship; and certainly not Austria this season. On each occasion he has had a split second in which to wrestle with his conscience. On each occasion that overwhelming need to dominate, to win, has won out.
A Fangio-beating sixth title — his fifth is surely assured — must be tempting. But instead he could take the opportunity of his fifdi to bow out stylishly, avoid fanning the inevitable ‘Of course, he was never as good as Fangio’. And should his fire still bum, an Indianapolis 500 or Le Mans victory would add far more to his lustre. As Mansell discovered in 1993, there is life outside F1. His ‘enforced’ Indycar title brought him more satisfaction and approbation than a season battling and bickering with Prost at Williams ever would have.
And a Ferrari without Schuey, meanwhile, would allow the sport’s most important team time to reflect on its context, too.