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. Gleeson@Geelong said on 3rd August 2010, 6:35

    I feel that this is partly the fault of Rubens. When you look at the footage above, at 1 second his nose is just at the back wheel of Schumacher. There is only just enough room for him at this stage and looking forward you can see the wall coming out. So it is not Schumacher moving to the right by using the steering wheel, it is the track bending to the left that is reducing the space available.

    So there is very little room to start with, and the wall coming out is going to make it even smaller.

    Schumacher comments that he expect Rubens to go to the other side.

    Also: How wide is the tarmac? 4 car wide? So looking at the one second part (can anyone provide video that goes back further?) they are already far across to the left. That leaves 2 car widths on the left. Rubens has decided to take the narrowest section, just so he has the inside, causing the start of the problem.

    He did put himself on that side. I can only pass on the inside mentality. With all “normal” passing done on the inside, he has been blinded by the inside line that there is a possibility that a pass could be done on the outside.

    Is it not the responsibility of the driver behind to ensure that they are able to complete the pass safely?

    • Spike said on 3rd August 2010, 7:35

      Gleeson,
      The thing is that it happened on the start/finish straight, the track doesn’t bend left at all.. have a look on Google Earth and you will see.. (Mogyoród near Budapest). What you are seeing is where Schumacher pushed Barrichello into the pit exit lane then they both had to swerve left to avoid the grass. I reaaly can’t see any fault on the part of Barrichello.

    • Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 3rd August 2010, 8:14

      You can’t blame Barrichello for this at all. Look at the moment at which he chose to go to the right of Schumacher – there’s clearly room on the inside for him to go. If Schumacher really wanted to prevent him going down the inside he’d have been two car lengths further across to the right.

      But what Schumacher really wanted to do was wait until Barrichello had begun moving alongside him and then close the gap, intimidating Barrichello into coming off the accelerator.

      Kudos to Barrichello for keeping his foot in.

      • bosyber said on 3rd August 2010, 12:35

        I guess Schumacher forget to watch formula 1 last year and never saw a Barrichello who was able to fight for the championship until close to the end. He just didn’t believe his former teammate had found enough confidence and guts in himself to stick with it.

  2. Spike said on 3rd August 2010, 7:14

    Mike,
    I think the point is that Schumacher has brought this level of criticism upon himself for the tactics/questionable moves he has used throughout his career of which there are far too many to list.
    It would seem to me that although he was unqestionably talented once, though now his team mate is giving him a good thrashing, at heart he is a bully. Perhaps now the chickens are coming home to roost as they say.
    As Grantland Rice once said..
    “For when the One Great Scorer comes
    To write against your name,
    He marks-not that you won or lost-
    But how you played the game”.
    Schumacher will be remembered as much for his dirty driving as his results.

    • GWBridge said on 4th August 2010, 21:00

      So nicely put, Spike. Many people in these forums seem to have lost sight of the fact that this is a sport. The road to greatness is to excel within the restrictions imposed by the rules and by good sportsmanship. The rules are there to make it difficult to achieve the goal of the game. If you ignore the rules and the spirit of the sport, you won’t be regarded as great. You’ll simply have a high tally of scores.

  3. MuadDib said on 3rd August 2010, 7:41

    Well, there is a difference between such defending one’s position that may push the other car onto the grass… and a heinous act like this, blocking the other car and threatening it with crushing against a concrete wall…

    Even thoug both may be legitime, I consider the former completely fair, and the latter one unfair. I can’t remember how close the 2 got, but I think it was so close, that if either of them had hit the brakes, the tyres would have collided, which would have meant that the car slightly behind (here driven by Rubinho) would have run over the car slightly ahead, which could have resulted in very serious injuries to both drivers (but Rubinho would have fared much worse, IMHO).
    That is why it was so dangerous – unlike a manoeuver to push the other car onto the grass, which usually ends with a slight “time penalty” for the driver who took the risk and tried overtaking at a corner, rather than on a straight…

    Slightly off-topic: we may see fewer of these next year, because of the introduction of adjustable rear wings, which are there to encourage overtaking at straights. While this certainly increases the attractiveness for the spectators, it is nowhere near any sort of fairness, as only the trailing driver may adjust his rear wing geometry, which gives him an unfair advantage over the leading driver in overtaking, who cannot use the same driving measures in defending his position…
    In other words: your car then may not be as fast as the one immediately behind you, because that driver wants to overtake you…

  4. Yorricksfriend said on 3rd August 2010, 8:21

    If they didn’t have bitumen run-off areas, people gaining an advantage by cutting a corner wouldn’t be a problem. I miss the old days when if a driver went off the track, he stayed off the track. Where is the skill these days?

  5. Neil said on 3rd August 2010, 8:22

    Fair point on what people remember Keith but not everyone remembers the truth mclaren fan seems to think senna was a safe clean racer throuout his career only the real f1 fans remember the dirtier bits and accept it as part of what made them great.

  6. SPZ said on 3rd August 2010, 8:42

    I find it interesting that people always talk about Senna’s move on Prost. Don’t people remember Prost move on Senna years before at Mclaren? Exactly the same thing. However, in this case, Senna was not to blame IMO. Why? In that race, Prost needed to FINISH to win the championship. Senna was ahead in the championship. In that case, if you see the footage, the Mclaren was faster and he got his nose on the side back of the Ferrari. He didn’t crash on the back of Prost. Senna saw the gap and he thought “If we both don’t finish this race, I win, so, Prost, you better let me pass now or I’m champion. Move away”. Prost’s mistake was that he was the one with everything to lose and CLOSED THE DOOR with Senna’s car on his side. His mistake. Its all part of strategy. This is nowhere comparable to the abomination that was Schumaker’s move on VIlleneuve, or him “losing control” against Hill. Again, talking about Senna, I remember there was a particular race in the rain that he was almost lapping the second place driver and he demanded the race to stop to the stewards for everyone’s safety. Have you seen anyone doing this ever in F1?

  7. Neil said on 3rd August 2010, 8:58

    You’ll never see a driver stop his car on track and jump out to help a driver who’s crashed it’s interesting to read your take on the situation but as I said in an earlier post sennas words after he RAMMED Prost and I quote ( I do whatever it takes to win) and it’s that attitude aswell his skill in all conditions that made him so good

  8. most biased f1fanatic post ever!

    • specially for the part to throw the players out, putting Kubica taking out Alonso at Silverstone (which I can’t really see, I suppose your cameras had a different angle than mine) just to have a chance to talk again about Kimi taking out Lewis at Spa (tell me, where Kimi should have gone, and why didn’t Lewis continued if he had the inside line… same as alonso)

    • Maciek said on 3rd August 2010, 10:11

      Biased towards what – safety? Dang that Keith, he’s so unfair!

  9. Neil said on 3rd August 2010, 9:40

    This is my last post on the matter as I’m bored of this topic what do you think that race will be remembered for shueys dirtiest move (doubt it) or or rubys bravest (probably).

  10. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 9:57

    Why do journos and sportsmen always demand 100% consistency from officialdom in an arena that by its very nature isnt consistent. Even if we raced the same track every week with the drivers in the same grid positions there would still be different issues to resolve. The key with rules is to keep them broad enough to cover things like “dangerous monouevres” not define so tightly that pedants can argue if its on the outside inside or whatever.

    Without wishing to stick up for the already unlovely MS, watching the beeb for your F1 does have two commentators who were royally thrashed by him and a 3rd who left his team after 1 race. It was a bad move but Senna wrote the book on these moves and we all wax lyrical about him. So maybe some consistency on the at eh?

  11. DGR-F1 said on 3rd August 2010, 9:59

    I wonder if the drivers are willing to take more dangerous moves now the cars have got safer?
    After all, if your car is going to disintigrate around you, you aren’t going to try and rub tyres with the guy you are overtaking, but if you are confident with your car, then of course you will try anything in the name of winning.
    However, I am glad that the Stewards have taken this stand against dangerous moves (by anybody), but I think we will have to wait and see if any of the drivers take any notice, and if the Stewards at the remaining races this year will be equally willing to punish similar moves.
    Don’t get me wrong, we expect the drivers to be agressive on the race track, but if they aren’t sticking to their own ‘unwritten rules’ and treating each other with respect, why should they be allowed to race at this level?

    • DGR-F1 said on 3rd August 2010, 13:14

      I have had another thought about this: Has the GPDA said anything about Schuey’s move, or dangerous driving?
      The GPDA, I have always thought, has stood for safety, so if we hear absolutely nothing about this (or relating to this) from them, we can only conclude that they cannot be bothered……..

  12. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 10:07

    playing devils advocate you could say he gave rubens just enough room.

    koboyashi made a similar move last season and yet he seems to be fanboys hero.

    • Peter said on 3rd August 2010, 12:57

      autosport just ran a claim from Warwick
      that had they had enough time they would have black flagged him.

      They also considered a 1 race ban.

      I almost would have liked to see Nick Heidfeld come in for a race to see how he does relative to Schumi…

  13. Let me get this right shuey has done no good racing in seven count them seven world championships come on give your head a shake that’s the stupidest comment on this whole disscusion join the real world.

  14. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 11:48

    To be fair to Senna he set his stall out in the days when a backmarker was legitimately allowed to hold the racing line so your ability in traffic was a huge part of your chances in a race. Thats now gone so we dont need uber aggressive “i pass or we crash” drivers and we dont need moves like MS showed. But hes not the only one, like i said Koboyashi tried a “kart move” last season and we certainly shouldnt let our view of Schumacher the man colour or exaggerate our view of the move, bad though it was.

    • John H said on 3rd August 2010, 13:14

      Totally agree. The Kobayashi move sprung to mind, as well as Rubens pushing Hamilton into the wall at Interlagos actually.

      But Schumacher really should know better than this, that’s why people are going a bit over the top in critisising him.. and because he definitely has previous.

      The actual resultant penalty is actually quite soft.

  15. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 13:40

    yes moving across an opponent at a 100km/h chicane with a wide run off is exactly the same as moving across an opponent at 300km/h into a wall.

    The rules need to be applied to each issue which will ALWAYS have its own unique circumstances. To think you could just approach each incident in the same way is naive in the extreme !

    In football they have something called “dangerous play” so that even if you win the ball, sometimes you can be committing a foul.

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