Posts Tagged ‘ Mercedes

In praise of… Michael Schumacher

Michael Schumacher: a masterpiece of defensive driving in China. Photo by Darren Heath

Michael Schumacher: a masterpiece of defensive driving in China. Photo by Darren Heath

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…

Withering slights: time to change the Schumacher record

You know how I feel about Michael Schumacher’s comeback; if you don’t, click here (and if you want to know how some other people feel about how I feel about Michael Schumacher’s comeback, feel free to hold your nose and mosey on down to the AUTOSPORT forums).

Having said that, the sight of Michael Schumacher on a hot lap cannot fail to stir the soul of any F1 fan with a pulse. I for one am looking forward to borrowing a tabard and standing as close as I can get during the final phase of qualifying.

But some of the reportage of today’s Mercedes Grand Prix launch provided a brutal reminder of what I’m not looking forward to this year: the bulldog that is the British media sinking its teeth into Michael’s leg and refusing to yield until he admits to his past crimes.

When the Fleet Street posse are on a mission it is often a marvellous thing to behold, like watching a pod of dolphins herd their prospective lunch into a conveniently tight ball. At Monaco in 2006 they dealt Schumacher a succession of wounding strikes as he tried to brazen his way through a post-qualifying inquest into his disgraceful professional foul. At Monza last year they set about bullying Fernando Alonso into divulging what he knew about ‘crash-gate’ (just as they were getting somewhere, though, some berk from Gazzetta dello Sport let him off the hook).

On a slow news weekend, though, when they’re desperately trying to grind out the story du jour, it’s enough to drive you to drink. They declared open season on Schumacher today and drew a tart riposte.

How much mileage is left in this clunker of a story? Michael Schumacher is a known quantity. We’ve got 19 grand prix weekends to get through in 2010 and some of them are bound to be a bit slow on the news front. If the default tactic in such circumstances is going to be Schumacher-goading, then unless he’s actually caught with his hand in the till I don’t want to know. There’s only so much ennui a man can take.

Schumacher: Back for (no) good

Later this morning Mercedes GP will announce that Michael Schumacher will drive for the team in 2010. There is a certain delicious irony here; since Mercedes already has Nico Rosberg under contract, many outlets carrying today’s news are describing Schumacher as the team’s ‘second driver’. It will not be so.

Michael Schumacher is the most rapacious competitor ever to stalk the Formula 1 paddock. Anyone who thinks he is coming back just for one last run around the block, or to add to his already considerable wealth, is kidding themselves. He’s here to win the 2010 world championship or die trying.

This hasn’t stopped some people soft-soaping the idea of Schumacher’s comeback. My colleague Ed Gorman wrote in The Times yesterday:

The impression gained is that the German wants to pick up where he left off with Ferrari when he retired in 2006. Those suggesting that he may see his role more as a mentor to Nico Rosberg, the 24-year-old who would be his team-mate, than a team-leading championship contender, are wide of the mark. He is said to be looking to add not only to his record 91 grand-prix wins, but also to his unparalleled haul of seven drivers’ titles.

Ed is pulling his punches here. Only a serial dingbat would imagine that Schumacher is going to play the avuncular mentor role to Rosberg. Michael wouldn’t have signed up unless he was confident he could blow young Nico’s doors off – and he will, by fair means or foul.

For Mercedes this is a PR coup (of sorts), plus some belated ROI after easing Michael’s path to F1 through the junior formulae. For German TV stations it’s good news for viewing figures. For anyone who views Formula 1 as a sport, rather than a crushingly cynical exercise in winning at any cost, it is utterly depressing.

People often ask me what Michael Schumacher is ‘really like’. I say it’s tricky to tell. In many ways he is perfectly normal. He has an extraordinary talent behind the wheel but he is also a family man and he adopts stray dogs. He’s also a shameless cheat.

I say ‘shameless’ advisedly. Michael has a feline quality. Cats have no guilt; a tiger will maul its keeper and then half an hour later wonder where they’ve gone. It’s the same in the business world. Robert Maxwell, Kenneth Lay and Bernard Madoff didn’t view their behaviour as fraud, but simply as a different business model.

It is this mindset that has driven Michael to avail himself of any means necessary to win, whether that be spinning deliberately to spoil an opponent’s qualifying lap (Monaco 2006), punting opponents off the circuit altogether (Australia 1994 and Jerez ’97), or compelling his team-mate to move over (Austria 2002). Let’s not get into the business of illegal traction control systems, although there is a story that Juan Pablo Montoya was moved to such fury at the Brazilian GP one year when he heard the Ferrari’s engine stutter (signifying the presence of TC) that he drove into Schumacher’s car.

For all these reasons I hope Michael Schumacher’s return to Formula 1 is a brief and inglorious one. There is good reason to hope: word reaches me that Sebastian Vettel has already signed a contract with Mercedes in 2011. Let’s drink to that…

Petronas to be Mercedes GP title sponsor

Mercedes GP announced this morning that Petronas, the Malaysian oil giant, will take title sponsorship of the team from 2010 onwards.

Team principal Ross Brawn said:

Everyone at Mercedes GP is delighted to confirm our long-term agreement with Petronas and we look forward to working closely with our new partner in the future. The collaboration of the premium automotive brand Mercedes-Benz and a company as prestigious as Petronas gives our team a fantastic base from which to achieve our ambitions of competing at the top level of Formula One and building on the success of 2009 which saw the team achieve the Constructors’ and Drivers’ Championships. Our plans for the new season are progressing well, as is the development of our 2010 challenger, and we look forward to seeing the car run in the new Silver Arrows and Petronas livery at the Valencia test in February.

There had been much speculation in recent weeks that Mobil 1 would either leave McLaren or split its involvement between the two, but it appears that Mercedes were looking for more than just a technical partner. Mobil 1′s financial input into McLaren is relatively modest but the arrangement has been mutually beneficial, so it saw no need to spend more on a title sponsorship. Neither did it wish to transfer its allegiance from a team with which it has enjoyed considerable success.

When synthetic oil was introduced to the market in the 1970s, in the wake of the first oil shock, it was viewed with suspicion by many customers. Mobil 1 conquered this and established itself as a market leader by getting involved in motor sports and demonstrating its product there. It has been involved in over 100 Formula 1 wins, over half of which have come through its relationship with McLaren.

In recent years oil has become an increasingly important development path. The freeze on R&D, and the move to multi-race engines, has increased the demands on the lubricant in two ways: it must protect the engine over a longer duty cycle, but it can also liberate more power if blended to exactly the right viscocity.

It will be interesting to see what effect the move has on Mobil 1′s relationship with Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines in Brixworth.