Did Michael Schumacher’s Spa stunt set a new low? Nico Rosberg thinks so

He'll be back next year - but will the controversies return too?

He'll be back next year - but will the controversies retiurn too?

Who does Nico Rosberg blame for poor driving standards in F1? His new team mate:

It is Michael Schumacher who started this, like at Spa, when Mika Hakkinen tried to overtake him and he ran him off the track. When the guy behind has made a decision [to pass] and the guy in front then moves over, it is very dangerous. You cannot do that. That was the first time I remember it being a dangerous issue.
Nico Rosberg

Schumacher’s return to F1 is undoubtedly good news for the sport’s profile but, as Rosberg clearly knows, he tends to bring controversy along with him.

Hakkinen and Schumacher were both doing around 200mph when the McLaren driver tried to pass the Ferrari.

The onboard video above graphically illustrates the speed difference between the two cars as Hakkinen pulled out of Schumacher’s slipstream to pass. But the Ferrari driver squeezed Hakkinen to the far side of the track, forcing him to back off to avoid a huge crash.

Schumacher often stood accused of getting away with dangerous driving. This infamous move drew criticism at the time (in spite of Hakkinen’s successful pass on the next lap). Almost ten years on, do we now view this as a new low in driving standards that other drivers are now mimicking because they know they will get away with it?

Rosberg was talking to reporters in Abu Dhabi at the race earlier this year when he compared recent controversial incidents at Interlagos with Schumacher’s Spa move. Here’s more of what he said:

Barrichello, Webber and Kobayashi did exactly the same thing [at Interlagos]. With Webber, Raikkonen lost his front wing, with Kobayashi, Nakajima had a massive off, which could have been much worse – you can really hurt yourself, marshals and others in that sort of accident. With Barrichello, Lewis ran into the back of his tyre. That was the third time ?ǣ and it is not allowed to happen.
Nico Rosberg

Rosberg’s comment struck me as surprising at the time because drivers are rarely so candid about this sort of thing. It came on the same weekend that Jarno Trulli vehemently criticised Adrian Sutil over their crash at Interlagos.

While Trulli spent ten years racing against Schumacher, drivers like Sutil are part of the post-Schumacher generation – who watched him at work, seen what he could get away with, and copied it.

It’s true that other drivers before Schumacher were accused of using unacceptable tactics on the race track – Ayrton Senna and Rene Arnoux to name just two. But it seems to me that Schumacher pushed the limits even further – into dangerous territory.

Another dimension to Schumacher’s return is how Mercedes will handle it. We saw at Monaco in 2006 that Ferrari would support Schumacher even when he was caught red-handed in a brazen act of cheating. Will Mercedes be as willing to indulge Schumacher’s ‘win at any cost’ mentality?

That was one of the rare occasions when Schumacher was handed a meaningful punishment for his transgression. More often than not the FIA turned a blind eye to his dubious moves. So should we blame them or Schumacher for some of the questionable driving which goes on in F1 today?

Whichever, I doubt we’ll get to the end of 2010 without this argument coming up again.

Driving standards in F1

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144 comments on Did Michael Schumacher’s Spa stunt set a new low? Nico Rosberg thinks so

  1. Icthyes said on 31st December 2009, 10:30

    I completely disagree with Nico and Keith.

    Senna pulled off moves which were just as bad as Schumacher’s. The only thing he didn’t do was park his car to get flags out. Apart from that, Senna could be an even worse menace to drivers than Schumacher could. In fact, it’s probably where Schumacher learned his trade from, if we’re going to start blaming people for influencing others. I fir one am suck of the hypocrisy over Senna; it seems that Schumacher’s biggest crimes were to dominate for two seasons in a five-season winning streak and not to die in the attempt, because that’s pretty much most if the difference between the pair.

    Personally I think the whole theory is rubbish, and Nico’s examples poor: two of them were racing incidents whilst a third involved a rookie – they hardly compare to Schumacher’s ruthlessness.

    I think Nico is just trying to play mind games on Webber and Hamilton, whom he expects to challenge next year, and he must have known Schumacher’s return was a possibility – the rumours were already flying.

    • John H said on 31st December 2009, 10:41

      Where do you draw the line though? According to the rules braking 50m early for a corner is not outlawed, but Ralf’s brake test for Villeneuve at Melbourne killed a Marshall.

      I think if you look at the Spa video it’s the last minute weaving that is the complaint here, not the one move rule.

      Yes it’s a dangerous sport but I personally don’t like to see cars flying into crowds and Marshalls, and with open wheelers that is what can and probably will happen if drivers do not speak out a bit.

      • Icthyes said on 31st December 2009, 10:55

        Sadly, the line can only be found through trial and error and sometimes people get hurt or killed in that process. The only way to eliminate it at all would be to completely neuter the racing.

        Thankfully we seem to have it mostly figured out for today’s F1. It doesn’t help when stewards give out penalties for nonsense situations and don’t punish clear transgressions, though.

        And I highly doubt drivers speaking out in Rosberg’s manner will help, particularly when his argument is so weak. If there was a single united front then perhaps so, but again all we’d end up with is the same situation we have now or an F1 with almost no action.

      • W154 said on 1st January 2010, 4:13

        So tell us John why you did not present your ‘evidence’ to the Victorian Coroners Inquiry?You surely have all the telemetry and recorded interviews with the drivers after the race to substantiate your libelous slur.Looking forward to a call from Ralfs legal reps? Be carefull what you write- we live in a litigous world.

    • I’m sorry but you simply can’t compare Senna and Schumacher in any way. In the case of Senna blatantly ramming Prost off the track at the start of Suzuka 1990, it was a case of sticking to one’s principles.
      After the controversy of 1989, Senna was prepared to do anything in 1990 and he openly said it in all press conferences. When they refused to have the pole position on the cleaner racing line, Senna said he would crash into Prost if Prost made a better start. And that’s exactly what he did. He never did anything similar ever again. Nor did Prost.

      In Schumacher case, he did some quite revolting manoeuvres several times in a pathetic attempt to get away with mistakes he made all by himself. Some examples:
      – Repeatedly going against technical regulations in ’94 and ’95 (fuel rigs, minimum weight) costing him a huge amount of disqualifications
      – Went off track by himself at Adelaide ’94 and rammed Hill
      – Left the door open for Villeneuve in Jerez ’97 and at the last second, tried to damage his car
      – Probably the worst, his Monaco ’96 stunt in qualifying when he saw his last lap wasn’t quite good enough.

      • “the case of Senna blatantly ramming Prost off the track at the start of Suzuka 1990, it was a case of sticking to one’s principles.”

        Lol, ramming a fellow driver off the track at 160mph in cars which safety wise amounted to high speed bathtubs, some principles! Schumacher’s moves on Hill and Villeneuve were grossly unsporting but harmless in comparison to what Senna did to Prost in 1990. In fact all the examples you give for Schumacher’s unsporting acts are the ones that posed little danger to other drivers.

        • bettyhiam said on 1st January 2010, 17:08

          So right!@!@! But, Senna was martyred, not just killed, at Imola. None of his dangerous self-serving moves will ever be held against him. HIs aggression will forever be dismissed as mere playfulness. Go get’em, Schumi. Without this flamboyance and risk, it’s not racing, just high speed driving. Yawn.

      • Sticking to someone’s principles doesn’t always make what they’ve done right. What Senna did was wrong and people need to accept it. At least Schumacher never rammed anyone off. He may have come close to pushing drivers wide, but he didn’t blatantly ram people from behind.

      • José Baudaier said on 31st December 2009, 22:03

        Senna also did it for revenge. In ’89 Prost took him out of the track, but he managed to come back and after the race he was disqualified by a technicality while Prost had no punishment. ’90 was the pay back.

        One can’t say revenge is right, but also can’t say that it doesn’t have any influence. A pure and simple comparison of Suzuka ’90 and Schumacher’s ’94 and ’97 can only be considered limited.

        • I’m not saying Suzuka 1990 was right but the actions were motivated by real reasons and also publically premeditated. Something I can respect, even though it might be dangerous.

          Schumacher’s actions were, for the most part, last minute, desperate lunges following driving errors. In my mind, showing such desperate disregard for sportsmanship, in what used to be the highest form of motorsport, is repulsive, a far worse offense than putting 1 other driver’s safety at risk by punting him into one of the largest gravel traps around the suzuka circuit.

      • David A said on 2nd January 2010, 18:21

        - Probably the worst, his Monaco ‘96 stunt in qualifying when he saw his last lap wasn’t quite good enough.

        I assume you meant ’06.

    • Great stuff. I’ve always found it amazing people criticise Schumacher for ramming people, while they conveniently forget Senna did the same, and in a far more dangerous manner.

  2. Vincent said on 31st December 2009, 10:35

    it seems that Schumacher’s biggest crimes were to dominate for two seasons in a five-season winning streak and not to die in the attempt

    Sad, but seemingly true.

  3. im bored of this now XD

  4. rampante said on 31st December 2009, 10:53

    I am with Icthyes on this . Rosberg had promoted himself to be a driver that he in reality could’nt be in his dreams.
    Nobody else remember Senna crashing into the wall at the start finish line in France not only to win pole by not taking the last corner but also forcing a doubble yellow flag to stop anyone beating his time.
    I need to keep reminding myself that before Schumacher the sport was perfect and only gentelmen raced.

    • schumacher followed senna’s way of driving, but couldn’t get away with it some of the times. Now it is a little more difficult to do the so called dangerous driving, and not get a penalty. But sometimes it does happen. Thanks for letting them go for it once in a while, and not compromise the title fight, the way the stewards did with montoya at indy in 2003.

  5. Jakob Schmidt said on 31st December 2009, 11:04

    It´s strange how this clip which has been shown so many millions of times, still can amaze people and accuse Schumacher of shutting the door.

    The distance between his car and the grass is the same before Mika tries to overtake, as after he tried. The thing that confuses people, is that the view of the camera from Mika´s car changes, as he moves from being behind Schumachers car to try and go right on him

    Go ahead and accuse me of being a Schumacher fan, I am not, but I am just perplexed that the author fails to mention the fact, that several years later, mika Hakkinen has openly said that he knew there was not enough space for him to pass Schumacher, still Schumacher is blamed for staying in the racing line.

  6. doubler2k7 said on 31st December 2009, 11:14

    Keith, great article!

    Completely hits it on the head for me as to what my problems with schumacher was/is.

    He’s one of those guys I love to hate, in spite of that the fact I’m the first to acknowledge he’s a seriously talented driver.

    But to me there’s a certain responsibility that comes with being so good, a responsibility to do your talking with your skill behind the wheel and not cheat/pull dangerous moves at 200mph+

    I lost all respect for him because of it.

    Alonso is in the same boat, he’s one of the most complete drivers in the sport in the moment, he can wring the neck of a mediocre car and launch it further up the points than it deserves to be!

    But I seen a schu-esque side to his mentality when he moved to McLaren, the whole need to be the top dog in the team. You are top dog based on your performance in the car, nothing more!

    If any of the schu fanbois/gloryhunters think I’m biased against Ferrari (I’ll admit my team is McLaren, always was and always will be), I like lots of drivers, not just those driving for McLaren. I was a huge fan of Alonso pre-mclaren, and I love to see Vettel, Webber, Rosberg and other drivers do well, tho not at the expense of Lewis obviously!

    But first and foremost I want to see good racing, not cheating!

  7. Most competetive drivers of the new era will push the limits of bad behaviour on the track. There used to be a limit to what you could do before F1 bacame so much safer at the beginning of the eighties with carbon tubes.
    The first driver to take advantage of the new circumstances then was Senna and since he was not punished for it by the FIA this sort of driving was more or less accepted. Schumacher has had some high profile cases of bad driving which I think is the result of reflex actions rather than calculated moves.
    Alain Prost is often overlooked as being a truly great driver, but was he not the greatest? He won all his races and Chapionships against the best competitors and team mates and never compromised his dignity by unfair driving.

  8. Nico is just a spoiled brat repeating Daddy’s views :-(

    We all saw his Keke’s comments on the La Rascasse 2006 …. He was so unprofessional in his commentary :-(

  9. Spa ’00 was not as dangerous as Hill’s triple weave at Canada ’98.

  10. I think Schumi is a hard one. But not more than many others (Senna, Prost did similar moves in 88-90 period).
    He’s not the most correct of hystory, but I don’t think he set a bad standard.

  11. I know that the safety of others in the sport (marshals, spectators, the drivers, and the mechanics) is the most important aspect of the sport. But I think that a little aggressive driving is not bad, what Schumacher has done in the past is not that bad. That video at the top shows that when Schumacher blocked Mika, that was just pure racing, and that is what F1 should be all about: pure racing. I’m sure Michael will not endanger the lives of others.

  12. Want to stop dangerous on track moves by your fellow drivers? Senna taught us that as well: Meet them in pit lane after the race and punch their lights out! I assure you they will remember the color of your car in their mirrors at the next race.

    Personally I see nothing wrong with defending a position regardless of car performance discounting of course lapped cars, which is why they have blue flags. If you want to advance a place you have to take it, it shouldn’t be given.

  13. Even knowing that i´ve been a Shumacher fan, i have to agree that sometimes he doesn´t think so much on the other drivers.
    Rosberg waited his chance to prove himself in a better car and now that he finaly got it, all his triumph is being spoiled by Shumacher return.
    Do some guys remember to post a comment here saying how will the Button-Hamilton and Massa-Alonso respect each other inside the team!
    Well, i think Mercedes has much more to do in the garage now to keep both drivers happy!
    I think Shumacher will not be in perfect condition to drive in F1 and he´ll see his face after 3-4 races.

  14. I’d say this is Rosberg trying to stir things up a little. As a kart racer myself, that sort of move seems fair. Schumacher was defending his position by using all of the track. It might have been dangerous, but that was in part Hakkinen’s doing for staying so committed.

    All Hakkinen had to do was bide his time and choose another moment to strike.

    Rosberg is too much of a moaner. Shut up and let your driving do the talking.

  15. Dennis said on 31st December 2009, 14:31

    I think the Marshalls are very strict at manoevres like that nowadays – as long as it’s not a Ferrari or Schumacher who does it.. It’s a dangerous sport anyway and moves like that one Schumey did to hakkinen are unnecessary. If you’r beaten, you’re beaten, don’t start acting like a madman. Senna once admitted to pushing Prost of the track but that was because of the politics in F1. I think Hamilton is quite a dangerous driver as well. But there’s a difference between taking huge risks and plainly cheating. Everyone driving an F1 race puts his life at risk, so at least some rules are necessary to prevent the kind of actions Schumacher did there. This is however the most brilliant pass I’ve ever see in F1 (the lap after the controversial move), so I’m actually quite gratefull he did it.

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