In praise of… Michael Schumacher
I never thought I’d look down and see my fingers composing the sentence that makes up the headline of this piece. Nevertheless, since so many munchkins out there are heaping unqualified criticism upon Michael Schumacher’s ageing shoulders, someone ought to point out some balancing positives.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that during a drearily slow news month (when the most interesting thing anyone could find to talk about in print was where the wing mirrors ought to go, I knew it was time to head to the bar), Schumacher’s woeful results in the opening rounds should propel him somewhat prematurely into the firing line. Certainly his overall pace in the understeering MGP-W01 has been disappointingly ordinary, although you have to wonder how the Mercedes designers managed to conjure a chassis whose natural balance is so diametrically opposed to that of the cars that delivered him seven world championships.
So, has Michael Schumacher lost it? Speed-wise, until (or unless) Mercedes GP equips him with a ‘pointier’ car, we may never know. But last Sunday, in China, he demonstrated that his formidable racecraft is as sharp as ever. Even as he slid down the order, his dogged defence of every lost position was so mesmerising that I couldn’t wait to see it again.
Viewing all this through a 600mm lens was Formula 1’s best photographer, Darren Heath; as you can see on his blog this week, he and I see eye to eye. Regardless of where Schumacher finished on Sunday, his was a marvellous display of defensive driving. He knew the weaknesses of his car (principally a lack of traction, brought about by shifting the ballast forward to get the front end working more to his liking) and ensured that his adversaries couldn’t take advantage of them.
As Darren writes, there is an art to defensive driving:
It’s all about simple yet fundamental factors: judging your competitor’s speed and trajectory; where the grip is (and isn’t); your braking in to the corner relative to the acceleration out; and, surely, in the art of both passing and being passed the failure to slow your assailant down to your speed (so that you remain in control) is a cardinal sin.
That was the key. Watch the race again and see how Schumacher – fairly, and with exquisite precision – placed his car so as to neutralise each opponent’s speed advantage. It was textbook stuff.
*Apologies for the paucity of updates recently. I’ve been hellishly busy on several projects at once (the old curse of the freelancer; you can never say “no”), and the deadline for my second book is looming. More on that, and other things, in the coming weeks…