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. Myles Woerner said on 1st January 2010, 20:39

    Wayne, it is clear that you have never stepped in a race car, because if you had, you would not be voicing these opinions. I agree-racing is racing, and is inherently dangerous. But to fanatically push for more danger in F1 by way of belligerent driving tactics shows complete immaturity and general ignorance of the nature of the sport. Perhaps you are simply feeling some faux nostalgia for the days when drivers died in numbers and lives were shattered. But I get it-you see yourself as a purist, and can’t stand what you see as heinous crimes to the heart of the sport in terms of safety regulations and procedures. But please, don’t voice your ridiculous opinions from your cozy little couch without thinking about real world implications. Also, work on your spelling and grammar. I have trouble taking you seriously when you write “their” instead of “they’re.”

  2. phil c said on 1st January 2010, 22:32

    Schumi will drive circles around all of them. There is no perfect world champion. In one way or another, each world champion has an issue in somebodys eyes.

    I dont agree with some of schumi tactics but the reality is, world champion drivers, have the 1% (i dont give a fu*k) in them that makes them a champion. When thay starting thinking to much it all falls to pieces. Button nearly lost it because he was thinking to much. And yes i dont rate him as a world champion driver, he second half of the season was useless. I have no doubt, if Lewis or Schumi was driving the brawn the title would have be done a lot a earlier. These guys can put wheely bins on pole with raw speed alone.

    Schumi, Alonso, Hamilton, Senna, Kimi there all of the same mould. The will do what ever it takes to win a title. If it means run somebody off the road they will. Schumi is the bench mark because he is the best, but lewis, alonso, senna are not saints yet they i never spoken badly of.

  3. zerogee said on 2nd January 2010, 3:26

    I’m with Ichthyes on tracing back poor driving standards to Senna. I’m old enough to have watched Senna through his career and the guy was a psychopath, pure and simple. This isn’t speaking ill of the dead, it’s a fact that bears repeating.

    Some of my favourite drivers over the years – no, all of them – have been proper sportsmen. I remember Hill taking Schumacher to task after Spa ’94 and then remember with enormous pleasure Schumacher some years later in Canada (’98?) complaining that Hill had tried to kill him.

    Like Senna, Schumacher has a psychopathic urge to win at all costs and this is neither good for the sport or for its fans and competitors. We all remember the dramas of 2008 and 2009 but we need only to look back over the decade to detect the stench of Schumacher’s driving misdemeanours. Lie-gate was partly to do with driving standards but the dramas have really been off-track.

    With Schumacher about the controversies were always about the driving. Not all of it, no, but most of it. I’m not pleased about Schumacher’s return, I don’t care whether he’s good or not and I will welcome his departure after a few races or the end of the season.

    Phil C rightly points out that Kimi, Lewis and Fernando aren’t saints, and I’ll add Webber to that list too, but they are robust, not stupid. They don’t throw their toys out of the cockpit if someone tries to get by and the certainly aren’t engineered to do all their passing in pitlane because they can’t pull off a clean pass on the track.

    And without Ferrari’s Mosley-inspired immunity, I don’t think Schumacher would be seven-time world champion. How he got away with 1994 in a Benetton is anyone’s guess.

    But, before you sharpen your swords, let me say this – he is an extraordinary driver who doesn’t need to cheat or endanger others to win and to win well. Why he sullied his career with such awful choices remains a mystery to me. Same goes for Senna, too.

  4. Jamez said on 2nd January 2010, 6:41

    Rosberg needs to grow some balls. I’ll admit, I consider Nico to be a very consistant, mature, and fast racer who seems to be living in the shadows of mediocre drivers in good cars *cough*Button*cough*. However, this is the pinacle of motorsport, not “Driving Miss Daisy”. If Nico wants to be a champion, he needs to start making risks, start putting himself in the spotlight. Schumacher was the expert at this, and still is. He knows how to minipulate others mentally, that’s his most dangerous side. Not what he does on the track… may 2010 prove this.

  5. Interesting debate. Totally agree with the great comment that Schumacher is too good to need to do these moves, and we all wait with baited breath to see whether the old “bad boy” will re-emerge in 2010. the above video proves that a great champion doesn’t have to resort to dirty driving. Mika answers Schumi with class, and makes it look easy. Power to him. Someone here said you need to be ruthless to be a champion. Mika disproves this.

    As did Nico’s dad Keke, one of the greatest, and biggest-balled racers ever, and perhaps THE most underrated of F1 drivers. Everyone goes on about Senna’s great first lap at Donington in 1993. What about Keke’s at Monaco 10 years earlier? The only driver on slicks on a damp track…5th on the grid in a “Cossie” driven car, when all around are turbo driven. P2 at turn 1, leading at the end of the lap. He made that slickshod Williams dance on the wet surface, around the most unforgiving track in the world. a great victory. The only time he resorted to “dirty driving” was to block Senna’s lotus at Brands, to allow his team mate Mansell through to victory!

    There’s a long list of “clean” champions – to name but a few: Hakkinen; Kimi; Mansell; Alonso; Fangio; Jim Clark…and Stirling Moss of course – a true champion in all but numbers. His view is that safety measures have ruined driving ethics,and made “dirty driving” possible, because to have done such things in his era would have been lethal. Or as another great, Mario Andretti put it in response to Senna’s reprehensible act of revenge on Prost at Suzuka: Senna’s excuse was initially “Prost left a gap…” Mario said: “If there hadn’t been a gravel trap, there wouldn’t have been a gap…”

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 2nd January 2010, 17:45

      There’s a long list of “clean” champions – to name but a few: Hakkinen; Kimi; Mansell

      Didn’t Mansell brake-test Senna at Adelaide in his championship-winning year?

      It’s funny how standards changed Keke Rosberg was furious at Mansell for defending his position at Dallas in ’84. By modern standards there’s nothing to fault what Mansell did. I wonder if other people were as bothered by it as Rosberg was back then?

      • Didn’t Mansell brake-test Senna at Adelaide in his championship-winning year?

        He did, and they both crashed out of the race as a result.

        Mansell also had a large shunt with Senna at Estoril in 1989, making an extremely optimistic move after ignoring failing to spot a black flag for reversing in the pitlane – conveniently helping Mansell’s soon to be Ferrari team mate Alain Prost to win the race.

  6. zerogee said on 3rd January 2010, 0:32

    I think we can add Damon Hill, Jenson Button and Jacques Villeneuve to clean champions. I think we can add Jacques…can’t we?

    • David A said on 3rd January 2010, 2:42

      Damon Hill rammed off Schumacher twice in 1995 for revenge (Silverstone may have been accidental, but Monza was deliberate). Hill’s triple weave at Canada 1998 has also been mentioned i this thread. The other two I’ll agree with unless somebody reminds me of anything they’ve done…

  7. dsob said on 3rd January 2010, 9:27

    You regulars here know, when it comes to articles or Forum posts concerning Mssr. Schumacher, I avoid them like the plague. But I have to get in on this.

    Schumacher isn’t the only driver to ever use dirty tactics, nor is he the only driver/team to cheat. However, most other drivers drove dirty ocassionally. Schumacher seemed to make a career out of it. That’s my only complaint with him. Other than that, he was a d@mn good driver.

    Oh, I agree with those who say the whiners should sit down and shut up. Drivers should be allowed to defend their positions, and when letting an overtaking driver through becomes the rule, that’s when I quit Formula 1. However– manouevering an already wrecked car back across the track to block a competitor is not in any way to be compared with defending one’s position during an attempted overtake. (Schumacher, Adelaide, ’94)

    So, regardless which side of the discussion you’re on, let’s not confuse legitimate dicing with trying to wreck or run the other guy off the track.

    As to women drivers in racing, I say fine thing. If they have the pace, give them the seat. And to all those commenting that women just don’t have balls–why would you want them to? ;-)

    @Wayne–obviously you were taken from the teat far too early. I can recommend a good therapist, if you like. You are lucky I’m not a moderator here, cause I’d have banned you way back. Good that Keith is more forgiving than I.

    And what exactly, Wayne, is your area of expertise in racing? Driver? Team owner? Race engineer? And you talk of races 20 years ago. Do you actually know anything of them, or only what you’ve read or heard from others?

    Many folks on Keith’s site do have personal experience in racing, or have actually been going to races for 20 or more years. You might want to read closely, it isn’t hard to suss out who they are, you might learn something.

  8. Dave said on 4th January 2010, 7:35

    All this talk about recent ‘dangerous’ driving as if it’s a new phenomenon! Anyone else here old enough to remember Willy Mairesse?
    By the way, Wayne, with opinions like yours, your surname has to be ‘Kerr’!

  9. JohnsonsTwin said on 4th January 2010, 9:57

    The manouvre goes to show the class of Hakkinen. Yes he had some off kilter moments, but how many times did this guy pull off stunning lap times that had the Schumi super team reeling?
    Some cynics would say he had the car, but I remember Schumi having the best car for each of his 7 championships, Benneton years arguably granted. He had Ross Brawn though….

  10. A lot of talk espressing hope that Todt will be even-handed.

    He needs to be. The cruel and stupid kick in the balls of motor racing that was the penalty to Lewis at Spa 2 years ago, robbing him of a great win, was, as Lauda said “the worst decision I have ever seen in Formula One.” Who gains? Ferrari, with Massa’s promotion.

    Last year at the same circuit, Kimi sails past Fisichella at the end of a straight that began with Kimi driving WAY off track at La Source, to gain the advantage of momentum on his rival.

    Did HE get a penalty, or even an investigation for “gaining advantage by driving off the circuit” which robbed Lewis the year before?

    No! He won…in a Ferrari!

    Of course one could argue he’d have taken the lead anyway sooner or later, as the Force India was slower on the straight, but then Kimi crashed out a year earlier , so Lewis’s apparent sin wouldn’t have changed the result either.

    And regarding Mclaren’s fine, the guy at Ferrari who supposedly “supplied” the info to Mclaren(was it Rob Smedley? memory not so good this AM!) said “No way was it one way.”

    But Ferrari escaped punishmnent.

    So was THIS a case of personal vindictiveness on Mosley’s part?

    One thing is for sure, even-handedness on Todt’s part is a must for the future integrity of the…ahem..”sport” of F1.

    • Purple Skyline said on 9th February 2010, 1:50

      Very well said Tim.

      F1’s biggest scandal of all has been the biased interference from the FIA whilst presided over by a megalomaniac.

      This is not a defence of Briatore (for instance) but Mosley’s power hungry dictatorial stance was left unchallenged for far, far too long.

      Apart from Mosley himself, the biggest benefactors BY FAR have been Ferrari and a certain driver who happened to arrive at the right time in order to gain from such imbalance.

      I am still very concerned that Jean Todt, with his well known love of all things Ferrari – and incidentally; Schumacher: will dance to the tune of those who still hold the strings…

  11. Purple Skyline said on 9th February 2010, 1:37

    What a very well presented and candid view from a journalist who is not over-awed by the Schumacher hype – which many other journalists bow down to with their sycophantic hero-worship.

    It is very refreshing to find that there is someone prepared to stick his neck out, from the often cowardly pack of grovellers who simply add to the spin, presumably because it is easier to go with the general momentum to earn one’s crust; rather than rock the boat with something others prefer to shy away from.

    Well done.

    Forgive me for not elaborating; I say this from a knowledgeable perspective.

  12. BeyondThePale said on 14th April 2010, 22:00

    Prost was truly the greatest ever

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