A move too far: Schumacher forces stewards to take a stand

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Michael Schumacher, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2010

There was only one thing more shocking than Michael Schumacher’s move on Rubens Barrichello in the closing stages of the Hungarian Grand Prix.

It was the announcement a few hours later that he was being punished for it.

Previously it seemed drivers could do what they liked to defend position. Yesterday’s decision will hopefully set a new precedent for a better standard of driving in motor racing.

Time and again we have seen drivers make questionable defensive moves that have gone unpunished. It would be wrong to say Schumacher invented such driving, but many of the most shocking examples bear his name.

Yesterday’s attempt to intimidate Rubens Barrichello was straight out of the Schumacher playbook. He did much the same to Mika Hakkinen at Spa ten years ago, only on that occasion the track was bordered by grass and not a solid wall.

He dished out the same to his brother the following year and did it again to Fernando Alonso at Silverstone in 2003. The stewards turned a blind eye every time.

It’s scarcely surprising that drivers who wanted to beat Schumacher chose to do so by adopting his tactics. After all, it was clear the stewards weren’t going to stop them.

But we’ve rarely seen other drivers be quite as uncompromising at high speed as Schumacher. Remember how Mark Webber defended his position from Felipe Massa at Fuji two years ago:

Robust stuff and, like Schumacher on Sunday, Webber continued to move towards Massa even as the Ferrari drew alongside. The difference was that as Massa had already cleared the end of the pit lane he was not pinned up again a barrier as Webber leaned on him.

Schumacher said today he accepts the stewards’ decision. They have set a potentially significant precedent by punishing him, one that could force him and other drivers to be more restrained in similar situations in the future.

This is good news for two reasons. It’s clearly better from the point of view of safety. The crash in the Superleague Formula race at Brands Hatch this weekend showed the violent accidents that can happen when drivers veer towards each other during overtaking moves:

Driver Chris van der Drift, who was sent skywards by Julien Jousse, suffered a broken ankle and other minor injuries.

Clamping down on this sort of driving may also help encourage overtaking, as defending drivers know they mustn’t go too far in their efforts to keep an attacking driver behind.

The stewards – bolstered this year by the long-overdue inclusion of former racing drivers – deserve applause for taking a stand against reckless and dangerous driving such as this.

But the policing of driving standards in Formula 1 remains unsatisfactory, largely because so little of it is spelled out in the regulations. Schumacher was punished for “illegitimately preventing a legitimate overtaking manoeuvre”. But there are many questionable things drivers may do to keep rivals behind which are not considered “illegitimate”.

For example, pushing a rival clean off the track is allowed. We saw that when Robert Kubica did it to Fernando Alonso at Silverstone this year, and when Kimi R??ikk??nen did to Lewis Hamilton at Spa two years ago, to name just two particularly memorable examples.

And the rules about respecting the track’s limits make no sense at all, based on recent precedents.

Drivers may gain an advantage by going off the track on the outside of a corner (as Schumacher did at the start last weekend and as R??ikk??nen did at Spa last year) and they may cut corners when a rival is trying to overtake them to keep position (Schumacher defending in Canada this year).

But they may not gain a position by going off the track on the inside of the corner (Alonso at Silverstone this year) nor if both cars go off the track (Webber and Alonso at Singapore last year).

These are clear double standards. Either a driver is allowed to go off the track and gain an advantage or he isn’t. It shouldn’t matter whether they’re on the inside or outside of a corner.

There have been some improvements in the quality of stewarding this year, particularly as we have seen fewer penalties for minor infractions – a welcome relief after the excessively punishment-prone stewarding in recent years.

And I was impressed that the stewards intervened over Schumacher’s driving this weekend as it’s the sort of dangerous move they’ve turned a blind eye to too often in the past.

But a re-thinking of the rules of engagement is still needed to make racing fair between the drivers and clear for the fans to understand.

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219 comments on A move too far: Schumacher forces stewards to take a stand

  1. Don Speekingleesh (@don-speekingleesh) said on 2nd August 2010, 22:55

    One thing about that Webber move on Massa was he made it very clear he was covering the inside before Massa got alongside (before moving over far too much), unlike Schumacher.

  2. RobR (@robr) said on 2nd August 2010, 23:00

    I don’t think a ten place grid penalty is “taking” much of a “stand”… we’ve seen people get the same penalty for far lesser offences. This one spooked the hell out of a lot of people because it could have ended in catastrophe. A one-race ban should be the punishment, but correct me if I’m wrong, we haven’t seen one of those in a long while. I suspect it’s because Ecclestone, for money reasons, doesn’t want star drivers sitting out races.

    • bosyber said on 3rd August 2010, 12:21

      But those harsh punishments were while Mosley was in office, and penalties were unpredictably harsh, or erratically absent, depending on the race, politics, and driver, and how the wind was blowing, or something.

      Now, this year, the FIA has seemed to want to be more reasonable, but has also perhaps been a bit lenient on this sort of aggressive driving, and is starting to turn that around and make clear that they may be reasonable, but that not everything is allowed.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2010, 15:32

      Perhaps it should have been a tougher penalty – but the fact they’ve punished him at all is remarkable when similar incidents in the past have gone unpunished.

      • Warwick has said that they wanted to black flag him but ran out of time. That would have been very embarrassing and brought even more attention to the incident. However I am not a big fan of massive punishments and have found it quite refreshing that the stewards are being a bit more sensible this season.

  3. Regis said on 2nd August 2010, 23:07

    If Barichello would have hit the wall with his back tyre (only 10cm away) he could have hurt himself really bad.

    Schumcher is a disgrace !

  4. Ads21 (@ads21) said on 2nd August 2010, 23:25

    Before today I was almost begining to like Schumacher, he seemed to have a more relaxed approach and I was even reconsidering what I thought about his Ferrari days. But yesterday only reminded me of everything I hated about his first career in F1 and why I can never be a Schumacher fan.

    For me Sunday summed up the Senna/ Schumacher attitude of utter ruthlessness which can cross the line into complete disregard for the saftey of other drivers. Senna was prepared to ram Prost off the road of 170 mph while Schumacher was prepared to show his own brother the pit wall to defend his position.

    in contrast when I watch documentaries and videos from the 70s and early 80s what struck me was the way that the drivers spoke of the mutual trust they had for each other not to do anything stupid when racing side by side. Much of the reason the famous Arnoux vs Villeneuve battle was possible was that each man trusted the other not to do anything reckless and dangerous.

    Schumacher and Senna were the opposite in that they wanted to make you fear overtaking them for what they might do. Thats why despite their immense ability I’ll never view them as highly as the likes of Villeneuve Stewart or other greats who didn’t resort to such tactics.

    • Robert said on 3rd August 2010, 2:27

      Exactly that is part of the reason why Michael and Senna are the undisputed No.1s of this sport. You can hate them all you want, their results and what they have achieved speaks for itself.

      • Floda Reltih said on 3rd August 2010, 2:59

        Absolutely right Robert!!!!

        Their ruthlessness goes hand in hand with their greatness.

        Let the hippies cry over the rest… :-)

        • Ads21 (@ads21) said on 3rd August 2010, 8:33

          lol I’m not crying over it, Senna and Schumacher are without doubt two of the most talented men to ever drive a racing car and I have huge admiration for both drivers’ remarkable skill. But their enormous talent meant they had even less reason to use such tactics. It may have made them more successfull but it made them less great.

          • Steph90 (@steph90) said on 3rd August 2010, 11:33

            I agree with Ads a 100%. This was the cotd for me even if you didn’t get the actual title :P

            It’s that ruthless vs sporting. I admit I’m a Senna fan and adore Ferrari so owe a lot to Michael but they went too far at times.

            Brundle has said that Senna would come and to overtake he’d give you the option of letting him through or having a crash basically. There wasnn’t much choice in that. I find it fascinating the lengths he went to but I can’t say it sat well with me or it was a quality I could admire.

            I don’t want to pick on Ayrton as he was supremely talented and lots of drivers have done it but for me a battle or overtake means much more when it is fair and sporting.

          • Robert said on 4th August 2010, 1:16

            The more determined and talented you are the MORE you use those tactics to succeed Ads21. Unfortunately that’s part of the sport. Those things go hand in hand. It’s not just Schumi who uses them either. Ham and Alonso are just the recent World Champions which prove this point. Some of the moves they pulled this season speak for themselves. Sometimes you have to use a dirty move to gain or lose a position. It’s just that MS is the king of those tactics.

    • theRoswellite said on 3rd August 2010, 21:59

      BRAVO, Bravo, bravo….wonderfully statted!

  5. Sidney Vianna said on 2nd August 2010, 23:34

    Just for some fun. Technically, and notwithstanding what Michael did, Barrichello should have been forced to give the position back, just like Alonso was supposed to, when he overtook Kubica with all four wheels out of the track in England. Overtaking a competitor

  6. Patrickl said on 2nd August 2010, 23:39

    Schumacher just went over the line. In a big way. Nothing more. The stewards haven’t changed their position on anything.

    Indeed the fact that Kubica was allowed to push Alonso off track while defending his line in Silverstone showed this.

  7. macahan said on 2nd August 2010, 23:47

    Kinda start to like the Indycar rule that prevents blocking and defending your position. You stick to race line and that is it. On some road tracks they on specific corners specify “lanes” where you can only take the inside lane if your overtaking to prevent defending issues. Gives lot of overtaking and action. Sure all car are spec with their own individual setups. There are numerous hundreds of thousands different setup choices (combination’s) that can be done on the car and each driver and team do their own setup work.

    • DaveW said on 3rd August 2010, 14:26

      Yes, it’s like watching slot cars zip around their little lanes. What exactly is a pass if the driver ahead is bound by rule to let the guy behind drive up the inside at his leisure? Even with this contrivance IRL drivers can’t resist slamming into each other with all four wheels locked or slamming the door way too late. Did you see Toronto? It looked like a kids kart race.

  8. Krosh said on 2nd August 2010, 23:54

    Forget all rules and all the discussions about them. Just take a look at the second video above – it is exciting, man. Schumacher vs Hakkinen, Prost vs Piquet, Senna… If these guys were in place of Massa in that race, they would have said to engineer: “Of course he is faster than me, so what is preventing him from overtaking me?” hahaha…

    • Paul said on 3rd August 2010, 4:03

      Yes, it is very interesting, I assume Massa, from your point of view, would say the same thing to Kimi at Interlagos when Kimi overtook him (easyly) to win the championship, or Kovalainen to Lewis when he did the same thing or etc. etc.
      Come on, Doy you really think it does not happen every time (“Save fuel! Button”).

      • Kimi overtook Massa by putting in a batch of FLs after Massa pitted.

        Whilst Massa probably would have let him past for the WDC (which you’d hope would be a gentleman’s agreement between the drivers rather than coming down to team orders), that’s not what happened.

    • Patrickl said on 3rd August 2010, 10:49

      Like Barrichello did when Button claimed he was 2 seconds faster:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9GuXsyqWD8

      Shows exactly what the difference is between simply telling a driver that his team mate is faster and the way Ferrari said it to Massa.

  9. Maksutov said on 3rd August 2010, 0:03

    @Keith
    “For example, pushing a rival clean off the track is allowed.”

    Good point.

    “Drivers may gain an advantage by going off the track on the outside of a corner (as Schumacher did at the start last weekend and as Räikkönen did at Spa last year) and they may cut corners when a rival is trying to overtake them to keep position (Schumacher defending in Canada this year).”

    Although you keep referring to Schumacher, which is fair enough given that this is an article about him, I can think of at least 10 other drivers who have done this more so than Schumacher. Cutting corners especially.

    • BasCB (@bascb) said on 3rd August 2010, 7:24

      From Keith’s article i gain he is in no way saying there’s not a whole bunch of others doing questioable moves, using only a few examples to show there is not much their not allowed to do.
      That is exactly the point of the artickle, as it states this is the first time the defender is penalized for a move and it might help in curbing the overagressive defending we have seen in the last years.

    • Patrickl said on 3rd August 2010, 10:50

      Well name them then. The only driver I can come up with who got warned for cutting corners is Massa (Monaco)

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2010, 15:38

      I can think of at least 10 other drivers who have done this more so than Schumacher.

      Please do. Schumacher at Canada this year was the first one that came to mind. I remember Ralf Schumacher doing it a lot at Suzuka once when he was with Williams but I’m not sure if it was while he was defending a position.

  10. Joey-Poey said on 3rd August 2010, 0:04

    I’m glad you addressed the fact that many drivers seem to be going off track more and more while gaining a position. Personally, I’m already irritated that so many corners have the tarmac which leaves mistakes unpunished. SOMETHING needs to be there to deter going “out of bounds,” otherwise you get things like Silverstone’s new Club corner. I don’t wish to see drivers wreck, but the thrill and challenge seems to be less when there’s nothing more than a few tenths lost for going wide.

    I DIGRESS, I got off topic. I did notice Schumacher going wide at the start of Hungary and many drivers going wide at the start of Germany. But because it’s chaos, it’s hard to dish out punishments. I’m not sure what they can do because there’s surely other parts of the race that need to be focused on rather than spending hours going over the start to see who gained illegally. But, this is also argument for what I spoke of before: that there needs to be a greater deterrent for leaving the track. Something immediate and not necessarily damaging, but certainly effective in slowing the driver. I know time and time again, Paul Ricard is brought up for it’s abrasive run-offs. Maybe that should be looked into?

    • Eric said on 3rd August 2010, 8:02

      weren’t the drivers told before the race that they could use the runoff area first corner on the first lap?
      Sliverstone and here in Hungary.
      that was what i heard correct me if im wrong.

  11. Maksutov said on 3rd August 2010, 0:13

    Apparently Schumacher words:

    “Yesterday, right after the race, I was still in the heat of the action, but now I’ve watched the moment with Rubens again I must say that the stewards are right with their assessment.”

    “The manoeuvre against him was too hard. I certainly wanted to make it hard for him to pass and I also clearly showed him that I did not want to give up the inside line, but I didn’t wish to put him in any danger with my manoeuvre.

    “If he feels that I did, then I’m sorry because that was not my intention.”

  12. Neil said on 3rd August 2010, 0:13

    I love the way everyones banging on about shuey senna did much more dangerous things in cars that were not half as safe as they are now but everyone says he was the best driver of all time. The only thing a drivers thinking about is winning not I could kill someone if they did they would never make any sort of move.the fact is racing at that speed is dangerous and always will be even if you replace them with robots. Without the near misses and the danger we wouldn’t watch. Ps Becken Lima schumacher isn’t the STIG.

    • Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan said on 3rd August 2010, 0:55

      Senna was a great clean blocker he wouldnt turn into somebody who is half a car lengths beside him. What are you on about?

      • spawinte said on 3rd August 2010, 2:12

        What? Senna is probably the most famous after Schumacher for dirty driving.

        • fyujj said on 3rd August 2010, 13:37

          You must be one of these 20 year old guys here that never really saw Senna race. Senna was so admired because he won through raw talent. Mansell was much more hot headed at those days, not malicious, just hot headed.
          Prost crashed on Senna on purpose in Suzuka 1989 and Senna, for the disappointment of many, did somewhat the same the next year. That tells it all, he had never done that, he didn’t need it. He knew how to win and how to lose, as his years with weaker cars show.
          Martin Brundle was the ‘best of the rest’ in F3 when he raced Senna. You can’t compare 1980 F3 with current F1, just look at the enormously stupid moves we see in some access categories.

          • Sean said on 3rd August 2010, 15:45

            I’m glad someone pointed this out. All I hear these days is “Senna and Schumacher” this and “Senna and Schumacher” that. As if they drove the same way, or had the same mentality.

            Senna did a couple of things I wouldn’t defend. I would never defend Japan 1990 because two wrongs don’t make a right. He was fouled by Prost in ’89 to seal the WDC, wrongly persecuted by Balestre for it and then screwed again when Balestre personally intervened to make sure that Senna’s pole would be on the dirty side for the start in Suzuka 1990 (only after Senna had already won the pole and it had been offically agreed it would be on the clean side). All of this was wrong, horribly wrong, and I sincerely hope that Balestre’s death was an uncomfortable one. But I still say, and always said, that Senna should not have taken Prost out at turn 1, because two wrongs don’t make a right, and there are wider consequences.

            All this was a far cry, and way, way different a situation to Michael on Barrichello on Sunday, or Rascasse 06, or Jerez 97, or Adelaide 94, or on Alonso/ Hangar straight in ’03, or pushing Ralf against the pit wall in Germany. A far cry. Because those were just cynical acts of opportunism and thuggery, where none of those people had done anything bad to him at all, other than (gasp) challenge his speed. In Adelaide he had already thrown it off the road and ended his own race, for heavens’ sake, and he still came back to foul his way to the WDC.

            I also think Senna’s block on Prost in Estoril 88 was too hard and, again, the fact that Senna said he was incensed that Prost had just driven sideways at him off the grid to take P1 still didn’t make it OK. Again, two wrongs don’t make a right. But what the replays have shown here is that it was actually very mild compared to what we just saw at Hungary. There was still far more space and he didn’t drive Prost anywhere near the pitlane exit. Just not comparable at all, in severity.

            None of this will stop the “Senna and Schumacher were utterly ruthless” meme but I think it needs pointing out. Senna’s worst deed was in the context of a bitter feud where there was plenty of blame to go around, including a personal and vindictive intervention from the French head of FISA, Prost’s personal friend, trying to exclude Senna from the sport altogether, to end his career. But where are all these other horrible deeds from Senna? How severe do they really look now, in a 2010 context? Please show them all. He was actually a very clean, pre-emptive blocker and someone who could race inches from others *without* taking them off. Look at Silversone ’93 against Prost, wheel to wheel, no acrimony. Look at Barcelona on the straight against Mansell, wheel to wheel, inches to spare, no problem. Where exactly are all the cynical and disgusting fouls which are truly comparable to the ones we all list for Michael? Did he ever park a broken car on the racing line in order to get the race black-flagged? The truth is that Senna was hard as nails but was only occasionally unfair. He did push the boundaries of what was considered fair at the time, something that was always going to happen with the arrival of the carbonfibre monocoque safety cell, and whether it was too far in particular cases will always be open to debate because the actual ‘line’ will always be undefined. But he actually had a very strong sense of sporting fairness, which is what he was (wrongly, in my view) using as his frame of reference in Japan 1990, and the notion that Senna and Schumacher are just peas in a pod, equally ruthless and cynical, is way, way, wide of the mark.

            There will always be a fine line between being a competitive racer who puts peoples’ noses out of joint, and someone who steps over that line into unfairness. Then there is serial thuggery and theft. The two are different things.

            In short, please stop tarring Senna with the same brush as Schumacher. The rights and wrongs of his actions can and should be judged on their own merits, and I think it’s a pity he’s been lumped in with F1′s worst ever in terms of sporting fairness.

          • Robert said on 4th August 2010, 2:02

            @Sean

            You seem to forget that Sennas ‘streak’ ended. Michael has been in this sport for almost 20 years. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. Same thing when people compare what he’s done in his career to other drivers currently racing. He’s 10-15 years older!

            and @fyujj
            “You can’t compare 1980 F3 with current F1, just look at the enormously stupid moves we see in some access categories.”

            My point exactly. Crashing into each other just belonged to the sport back then which Michael was part off. He’s an old School racer. So him crashing into Hill is also shouted WAY out of proportion considering all the greats used that tactic back then. Just because it was Hill it’s still the main reason why MS is hated nowadays. No-one is talking about Senna or Prost doing the exact same thing.

    • GWBridge said on 3rd August 2010, 4:12

      Is this not a sport? If all a driver thinks about is winning, he should be taken off the track. What drivel. What about going fast within the rules? What about not killing yourself or leaving some other family fatherless? People who say nothing matters except results don’t understand Formula One. Sport is about excelling while playing fairly. No steroids. No unnecessary roughness. No cheating. No dirty driving and no late hits. You “results only” people will kill the sport.

      • Paul said on 3rd August 2010, 4:44

        You make me laugh Bridge. You almost make me believe that you think every driver out there is a perfect saint and that every Championship is won by an angel. Oh.. every one except the ones won by the EVIL Schumacher… haha

  13. Jraybay-HamiltonMclarenfan said on 3rd August 2010, 0:54

    It was poor blocking of schumacher. But I also give credit to Barri for keeping his foot in the throttle :D

  14. Tracy said on 3rd August 2010, 1:01

    Somewhat unrelated, but with the recent fines I got to wondering. Where does the extra income end up going? Does it get donated to charities like sports leagues in the US?

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2010, 8:07

      Goes into the FIA’s coffers – and apparently they’ve got a bit of a budget shortfall at the moment. The $100K from Renault and Mercedes will have helped.

  15. Oliver said on 3rd August 2010, 1:37

    Not like I’m defending Schumacher or anything, but it appears Schumacher gave Barichello just the exact amount of a cars width. I’ve seen other drivers do much worse.
    What is more worrying is the vehemence with which Barichello complains lately. Even when Hamilton was trying to break a tow from Petrov, the way Barichello went on about it, one would think the drivers were staring death in the face.

    • Robert said on 3rd August 2010, 2:33

      If Michael is the King of Dirty Tactics.. Barrichello is the undisputed King of Whining.. He whined when he was No 2 at Ferrari (deservedly so), he whined that he was Number 2 at Brawn (even though there was absolutely no proof of that besides his poor results) and now the saga continues.. hardly a surprise lol..

    • Patrickl said on 3rd August 2010, 10:52

      He’s supposed to leave Barrichello enough room to stay ON track. That’s inside the lines. Instead he pushes him 2 meters over the line and almost into a wall.

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