SIMON TAYLOR I KNOW WE’RE AU, FED UP wrai MICHAEL Schumacher monotonously winning Fl races: but it’s still quite something that he tied up the title after barely 2000 of the season’s 3200 racing miles. It’s another Schuey record for the short-term statisticians to trumpet Of course, in 1952-53 Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari won every single championship race over a period of more than 12 months. But, in the context of modem Formula One, Schumacher’s run of success — nine wins, two seconds and a third in 12 races — is certainly a substantial achievement Post-race in France, his predictable speech of thanks to the whole Ferrari organisation was saved from being trite because it was visibly heart-felt And that’s just as it should be (although it’s hard to imagine, in the rather less touchy-feely atmosphere of 25 years ago, new champion Nild Lauda publicly telling his Ferrari mechanics that
he loved them). With today’s technology, the complex rolling design and development programmes and the endless testing, the 100 minutes or so of motor race each fortnight is merely the visible tip of a 24/7 iceberg. There is a veritable army of specialists who can take personal pride in Schumacher’s title, even if they’re not as well paid as he is.
So Schumacher’s real achievement is not just in winning the races. It’s in being the sharp end of a substantial organisation, whose multiple levels of personnel are all united in a single aim. Whatever their role, they all work towards giving him the car that his prodigious ability deserves. And the network extends beyond Maranello. Although Ferrari, unusually in Fl, builds its own engines, there are many loyal outside suppliers: chief of these is Bridgestone, who can take much credit for keeping Juan Montoya
at bay. (Japan is beating France handsomely in the tyre war. In fact, it has been suggested we should go back to having a single tyre manufacturer, in the interests of closer racing). So strong is the whole Ferrari effort that it’s easy to forget this is the same team which, pre-Schumacher, was deep in the doldrums. It’s oft quoted that Michael’s 2000 drivers’ championship was its first title for 21 years, since Jody Scheckter. Actually, Ferrari won the constructors’ championship in ’82, the tragic season that Gilles Villeneuve was killed, and Dither Pironi was dreadfully injured — when comfortably leading the drivers’ championship. In ’83, the Scuderia won it again, with Patrick Tambay and Rene Amoux. But the fact remains that, from ’91, for three long seasons, Ferrari won not a single race, and there were only singleton victories by attrition in ’94 and ’95. This was the once-great
institution that, after his Benetton triumphs, Schumacher set himself the goal of reviving. He succeeded not just because he is a great driver, but also because he is a great motivator. Persuading Ross Brawn and Rory Byrne to join him in the same enterprise was a major part of getting the job done. Down the years, some world champions have understood better than others the motivating role they can play towards the whole team. The first, Giuseppe Farina, was haughty and aloof, and regarded his mechanics as his oily servants. Fangio, by contrast, was devoid of snobbishness, and his teams always loved him, not only because he was courteous and goodhumoured, but because he was a winner. Different again was Jack Brabham who, more than any other champion before or since, was one of the lads. He was down among them on the Cooper shop floor building up his own cars, so that he knew every weld and bracket
As F 1 ‘s popularity grew, boosted by the universal medium of television, so the drivers became more aware of their own status. Some of them became more self-important Others kept their feet firmly on the ground. At Williams they still talk vvith affection about their first world champion, Alan Jones: a hard racer who called a spade a shovel, but had absolutely no side at all.
Anyone who was at McLaren during 1988-93 will tell you that, on the night before a GP, Ayrton Senna was often to be found in the garage at 9pm, still pondering his telemetry and talking through details with his mechanics. By contrast, Damon Hill was reckoned by his several of his Williams mechanics to be somewhat remote. But, whatever a driver’s personality, the workers in a team will always love a winner, and they will always admire hard graft Michael Schumacher scores 110 per cent on both counts. Now he has won his fifth title, and I’m already tired of being told that he has equalled Fangio’s total. As things stand at the moment, there seems little to prevent him from adding a sixth, or even a seventh, over the next couple of seasons, although for the health of Formula One I have to hope he won’t be able to crush the opposition so completely in future. If he does there will be no shortage of claims that
he is indubitably the best of all time, simply because he has won the most championships.
Well, I don’t need to remind you of my views about the emptiness of these comparisons across different generations of racing drivers. Schumacher is indubitably the greatest of his era, just as Senna and Jim Clark were of theirs. I don’t know how Fangio would have coped with a Ferrari F2002, although I’d love to see Schumacher in an Alfa Romeo 159. But the only two things that are the same about Fl then and now are the name of the formula, and number of wheels on the car (despite Ken Tyrrell’s efforts to change even that with the P34). The one statistic across the eras with which I have any patience and even then, not much is the percentage of wins to starts. Fangio won 24 of his 51 world championship rounds, a success rate of 47 per cent; and he started 56 per cent of his races from pole position. For Schumacher the figures are currently 35 per cent and 27 per cent Like most racers today, Schumacher was in karts almost as soon as he was out of nappies. Fangio learned his craft in those extraordinary long-distance races across the South American continent, like the Gran Premio del Norte: 6000 miles from Argentina through Bolivia to Peru and back again, which the young Juan Manuel won in an old Chevy sedan with long-range fuel tanks inside the cockpit, and nothing in the way of roll-cage, racing overalls or fire extinguisher. I wonder how Schuey would cope with that
Sadly, today’s Fl stars only get the opportunity to excel in one discipline. Schumacher went well for Sauber in endurance racing in 1990-91. But, as is the way of things, once he broke into Formula One he was lost to everything else. Stirling Moss, perhaps the most versatile of all, raced anything and everything, often in the same day (and tended to be quicker than Fangio in sportscars). He also shone in rallying.
I’ve always liked the tale of Clark at Rouen in 1964. Having qualified on pole for the French Grand Prix in the Lotus 25, he was offered a run in Patrick Lindsay’s ERA, which had just taken pole for the supporting historic race. Clark had never driven anything remotely like this tall, spidery old car. But, after asking how the pre-selector gearbox worked, he went out for four exploratory laps and was immediately appreciably faster than Lindsay himself, who knew ‘Remus’ so well. And Rouen, remember, was a dauntingly fast road circuit, with its notorious high-speed swerves down to the cobbled Nouveau Monde hairpin.
By contrast, when David Coulthard had to demonstrate a Mercedes-Benz W196 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, he admitted that he didn’t much enjoy the experience, with no seat belts, no driver protection, and very little by his standards in the way of braking or grip. The idea of a multi-discipline motorsporting contest mixing an Fl car around Spa in the rain, a rally car over the flat-out yumps of the Thousand Lakes, perhaps a slingshot rail on a dragstrip, a W125 MercedesBenz on the old Niirburgring, even a Superbike around the Isle of Man is an entertaining thought, but for obvious reasons will remain a fantasy. Anyway, to be a true measure of the successful modern racing driver, it would also have to include negotiating your next contract, having a persuasive dinner with a prospective sponsor, and motivating your mechanics when they’ve got to do their third rebuild of the weekend because you’ve come adrift in qualifying. I suppose we should accept that Fl is already mixeddiscipline enough, and herald Michael Schumacher as a thoroughly worthy champion in his own time. Il
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