Michael Schumacher’s Brazilian Grand Prix commenced, as it would end, with controversy.
Prior to this season the FIA’s minimum weight limit governed only the car. A heavy driver therefore carried his own penalty, as well as a guilt complex. For 1995, though, the minimum weight was raised to 595 kilos, and revised to include car and driver.
Suspecting that after the initial weigh-in only cars would be put on the scales, and the driver’s weight automatically subtracted, many thought they spied a loophole in the rules: if a heavy driver could subsequently ‘diet’, his car would effectively run under the minimum weight.
The controversy was sparked when Schumacher, hardly the Cyril Smith of Formula One, was found to have ballooned from last year’s 69 kilos up to 77. By the time the race finished, and car and driver had been weighed – oops, there goes the loophole! – the German tipped the scales at a mere 71.5 kilos. At a combined 595.5 kilos, Benetton’s car/driver package was still legal, but his loss of nearly a stone in three days qualified him not only for a slimming award, but considerable flak in the press.
There are a number of mitigating factors, he argues, such as the heavier weight of his training helmet, and a recent gain through putting on increased muscle, but his main defence hinges upon a special procedure to thin his blood. “I generally don’t like to talk it through,” he admits, “but I’m going to because I see the reason I need to. It starts on the Tuesday, when I start drinking a lot of water, sometimes as much as four or five litres, to have my blood as thin as possible. Then during Saturday and Sunday I drink less and less. If I continued the drinking I would have to go to the toilet I don’t know how many times during the race, and that wouldn’t be very comfortable.”
Why thin his blood? Unlike many drivers, the World Champion doesn’t use a drinks bottle during the race, arguing that it affects his concentration. “But if you went into the race and started sweating, and you didn’t have a lot of water, the blood would get too thick and give you a big problem.”
So too, for that matter, would whisperings of deception at the opening race of the season.
In the wake of the post-race weigh-in, the FIA has ‘re-adjusted’ Schumacher’s weight back to 71.5 kilos. “I was a bit surprised when I was 77 kilos,” he admits. He wasn’t the only one.