A new book on Michael Schumacher by ITV F1 commentator James Allen? Whether I was going to like or loathe it I knew I had to read it as soon as possible.
Both Allen and Schumacher are pretty controversial among F1 fans – Allen’s commentaries for ITV-F1 are not well-liked, partly because of his perceived sympathies towards Schumacher and Ferrari.
I didn’t particularly enjoy his first book on Schumacher – but his new one completely took me by surprise.
Schumacher may have excelled in winning races but he’s apparently useless at inspiring biographers. As I glance across my bookshelf the titles with the word ‘Schumacher’ on the spine vary from half-decent to downright awful.
Unfortunately Schumacher has not deigned to be interviewed for the “The Edge of Greatness”. Undeterred, Allen nonetheless collared Schumacher’s former team mates Eddie Irvine and Rubens Barrichello plus several top Ferrari personnel. He also got some very interesting remarks from David Coulthard and FIA president Max Mosley.
But most revealing of all are the comments from Mark Webber, who speaks at length about how Schumacher used his position as president of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association to his advantage, and how Webber what he preached to his rivals and practised on the track were often at odds with each other.
Allen picks up this argument and runs with it in a stand out chapter examining Schumacher’s brief but fraught relationship with Ayrton Senna. He compares their disputes with Alonso and Schumacher’s run-in at Silverstone in 2003.
Many other Schumacher biographers have tended to play down the controversial moments. But Allen grabs every thorny scenario with both hands and examines them in detail. Recent new details that have come to light are covered – such as Norberto Fontana’s claim he was ordered by Jean Todt to block Jacques Villeneuve during the 1997 title-decider.
On occasion he perhaps even takes this too far – examining the odd conspiracy theory that Schumacher’s Jordan was sabotaged ahead of his debut race in 1991. But his approach is nothing if not thorough.
Allen presents plenty of interesting observations and points of view worthy of debate. Part of his take on Schumacher notorious championship collisions includes the suggestion that Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna normalised the act of crashing into your rival during their battles, and Schumacher simply carried this on but found himself overwhelmed by public outrage.
It’s an interesting argument, but I’m not sure about the claim that, after Senna took Prost out in 1990: “Everyone involved in Formula 1 knew what had happened the previous year and sympathised: the general feeling was that Senna had been robbed in 1989 and that his retaliation was understandable.”
The book focuses on some of the under-explored areas of Schumacher’s character, which I enjoyed because I really didn’t need chapter and verse on each and every one of his victories all over again. Instead the author looks at what made him great or, rather, how he made himself great – the work he did at Benetton to improve himself as a development driver.
It’s a good book with some very interesting passages and new insights. Its non-chronological structure means it jumps around a bit, also it leans a little too heavily on some typically spurious comments from Irvine.
Most of all, it really needed some new first-hand perspectives from he man himself, but it could be a while before we see any books with that in. Adapting some material from Schumacher & Sabine Kehm’s book “Schumacher” (published at the end of last year in German only) was a bright idea that unfortunately only goes a short way towards fulfilling that need.
But on the whole it’s a well rounded and thought provoking look at a driver that will continue to be a subject of heated discussion between F1 fans for years.
“Michael Schumacher: The edge of greatness” is published on September 6th, 2007
- “Team Schumacher” (Timothy Collings)
- “Schumacher: The Life of the New Formula 1 World Champion” (Timothy Collings)
- “Michael Schumacher: The Whole Story” (Christopher Hilton)
- Michael Schumacher: Driving Force (Sabine Kehm)
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