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. DaveW said on 3rd August 2010, 14:53

    If people think Schumacher is singled out I think you can understand why people think he should be even if you don’t agree. Old timers remember the transition from the 80s with that storied code of conduct on the track, to the 90s with Senna and Prost purposefully(!) crashing into each other, not to mention other moves by Senna that would have been outrages years before. Senna left us gasping with his skills such that we were often unwilling to condemn properly his homocidal moments. Also, of course ironically, we were in a period where we had become complacent about safety while at the same time the cars had taken massive performance leaps.

    Then comes Schumacher, right in Senna’s footsteps, and he often turns the crazy to 11. His move on Villeneuve is infamous because it characterizes his attitude toward racing generally: good enough for Senna, good enough for me. Schumacher even innovated his own brands of madness, e.g., syndicating the Start Line Chop—now standard procedure across the grid. This madness you see Vettel and often Hamilton doing at the starts would have been considered beyond the pale 25 years ago–the resulting start-line pile could have killed multiple drivers. You even see people lining up diagonally now!

    Schumacher bridged the period of increased safety-consciouness in 93-96, but didn’t seem to get religion like most of the drivers in that period. Thus, people rightfully want to throw the book at Schumacher for these things because in people’s minds he is like “original sin.” He re-established a way of racing that we had a chance to leave behind in 1994, you could say.

    • Robert said on 4th August 2010, 2:13

      Very insightful DaveW.. nice post and I agree 100%. I actually mentioned the same thing in another post.

  2. Dan Tierney said on 3rd August 2010, 15:18

    Perhaps Michael Schumacher should consider a switch to NASCAR which better suits his style of driving.

    • Patrickl said on 3rd August 2010, 15:30

      I remember that Schumacher once suggested that the regulation added that F1 cars ware fitted with bumpers between the front and rear tyres. Much like a go-kart.

      He got a lot of chuckles for that from people suggesting that he only wanted that so he could do even more bumper car driving than he did up till then.

  3. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 15:31

    Enjoyed your post daveW even if i dont agree with it all. Sport needs its bad guys and it needs its rivalries. It fuels any sport and particularly F1.

    Drivers in the modern era like Villeneuve, Senna, Schuwhacker and Hamilton have all pushed the boundaries, tested the rules and in lots of instances have had the rules rewritten as a result. This is a good thing, not bad, and part of the sport both from a driver and an engineering perspective.

    We’re too close to this latest MS misdemenaour to know if it is up there with his worst ( i personally dont think it is). I guess to a degree we are prepared to forgive our champions their flaws but thats bound to wear thin if the champ is now a chump and the slower he gets the more desperate he’ll become.

  4. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 15:43

    love it “sociopath”

    Ever the diplomat Keith. Thats a much less loaded word than the identical “psychopath” isnt it”

  5. antonyob said on 3rd August 2010, 16:00

    sean

    Senna ushered in a new era of more ruthless drivers. He is the starting point – hence the association – without Senna pushing the boundaries of fitness of racecraft, of everything good and bad then its doubtful Schumacher could’ve pushed these even further.

    And of course we see everything thru a 15-25 year halo. You cant just watch an incident out of context 20 yrs later and judge accurately if it was outrageous or not.

    However i do agree broadly with your sentiments.

    • Sean said on 3rd August 2010, 16:27

      In case anyone is wondering what this is a reply to, my argument (essentially that the deeds of Senna and Schumacher came from very different motivations and are not comparable in severity either, so please stop tarring Senna with the Schumacher brush) is all the way back on page 2. I won’t re-post them but I probably shouldn’t have made them as a reply to a much earlier post.

      antonyob – I won’t argue with your points because I agree with them, including the “15-25 year halo” point. I would like to see someone try to post the list of youtube clips that make the case that Senna had a litany or pattern of really cynical or unfair deeds that compare in any way with those I listed for MS, thereby justifying the “Senna and Schumacher were ruthless b@stards” meme. Japan 1990 is a given…Estoril, OK. What else? You are exactly right, Senna was a starting point, a springboard, meaning that his actions should be judged on their own merits in isolation, rather than holding him responsible for what others did in his wake. The latter is what I think is happening, but Ayrton is not responsible for things that Michael went on to do.

      • Robert said on 4th August 2010, 2:17

        “What else?”

        The problem is that Senna died mate. If he hadn’t we might have had some answers to this question. Fact is both of them were dirty.. and both of them are two of the greatest in the sport, which shows that these things go hand in hand. The ‘level of dirty’ is the only thing which seperates great drivers.

        • Robert said on 4th August 2010, 2:39

          Last sentence might be taken out of context:

          I meant that the ‘level of dirty’ is the only thing which differs between great drivers.

  6. Just to say congratulations on the fantastic site. Have been visiting for over a year but was too shy to comment.

    I never liked Schumacher the man, but I have to respect Michael Schumacher as an F1 driver. His World Championships speak for themselves. I still remember his first win in Spa (was it?) in an inferior Benetton. And also lets not forget his performances on rain.

    However, in no way he can be placed on the same level as Senna. As a driver, as an on the track Champion, as a person.Unfortunately, all the records Schumacher have will live in the shadow of Ayrton Senna- you can see that by the drivers votes for best of all time.

    Here’s a curious thing for everyone to see about Schumacher’s past. You might recognize the “move”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhJj-B3VqcU

    And, by the way, the other guy is Hakkinen!

  7. Horacio said on 3rd August 2010, 19:07

    Keith, brilliant article. But to me, more shocking than the move or the sanction was Schumacher attitude after the race, with statements that were simply an insult to the fans.

  8. The Milka Duno Award goes to Mikey Shoe…but lets face the fact that he’s always been this way

  9. Palle said on 3rd August 2010, 22:50

    This article is superb, Keith. Especially the part:
    “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.”
    I couldn’t agree more.

    And I fully agree to Your view that the rules should be improved.
    Every new seasons change in some rules causes some new problems, which are not foreseen and taken care of pre-emptive by the FIA.
    Even though I don’t hate Schumacher, I think he should have been black-flagged. And I think he shouldn’t have been punished in Monaco – the stewards should.
    And I don’t think someone should have a punishment based on previous merits, unless a previous punishment included a conditional part, which would come into effect if … and then a condition for when it would take effect. You can’t issue punishments or not, while holding them up against a “hidden” or “half-official” scorecard, where the drivers merits and punishments are written, together with a post-analysis of the fairness of these punishments and then try to even it out over the season. If so, the FIA should also try to take into account that some driver or team had bad luck with the safetycar or another driver, who caused them a DNF. Every sport has an element of coincidence, which is good entertainment.
    Every violation must be seen separate, punished and then final, maybe with some conditional punishment.

  10. Hairpin said on 3rd August 2010, 22:50

    Schumacher is in the wrong as I have commented previously and verified by the stewards and majority of fans on here, (discounting the schu fanboys) also I have to say so is Rubens with his post race comment about not being a rule for this sort of incident just an understanding between drivers! and here it is -Overtaking, according to the circumstances, may be carried out on either the right or the left.
    However, manoeuvres liable to hinder other drivers, such
    more than one change of direction to defend a position,

    deliberate crowding of a car beyond the edge of the track or

    any other abnormal change of direction, are strictly prohibited.

    @ Keith, I think there is another more serious and fundamental safety problem, that the FIA needs to address, to prevent possible crippling injury or fatality in the future, at this and other tracks with a similar pit lane exit. Exiting the pits near the end of a high speed straight directly into the path of oncoming traffic is crazy. Other tracks exit after the first corner where speeds are considerably slower and its safer for all concerned to rejoin.
    What say you ??

  11. Looking at the reply doesn’t look that bad, drivers have always done these kind of manoeuvres. Coulthard crashed his car on the back of Schumi’s 10 years ago, which then sent Schumi to the second place in the championships. Nobody said a word… FIA plays its games whenever they like it.

  12. T70 said on 4th August 2010, 4:32

    I just want to put it out there and say that nobody forced Barichello to move to the right, he balked

    • I don’t think backing off would have clear him,with F1 Aero package they have now the trailing car rides in messed up air.

  13. Brendyman said on 4th August 2010, 11:37

    “(…) It’s clearly better from the point of view of safety (…)”

    And this indeed is the one thing that F1 needs now, more safety. I’m honestly thinking to quit watching it, after nearly 15 years of steady decline, “safety” and teams/drivers always playing it safe. No balls, no heroes….welcome to the “safe” Formula 1 for the 21st century. Hope this sport…errr…business dies, it’s keeping a lot of people busy and if it finally were to disappear, a niche in the market would appear and something that’s actually fun to watch could take it’s place.

  14. GWBridge said on 4th August 2010, 20:43

    I read some words of Mario Andretti recently regarding driving the ground effects F1 cars. He said that there was so little suspension travel that there was no room left for driving skill or nuance. While we hear a lot about the efforts to reduce the “tyranny” of aerodynamics in the current cars, it seems to me that we are still in the same quagmire Marion described. I’d rather see “the limit” have more to do with the driver’s ability to position the car and take advantage of suspension changes. Right now, the aero qualities of the car seem to actually PREVENT the drivers from using any nuance or subtlety. The result is that we see the cars being used as battering rams and drivers making desperate runs into corners they can’t possibly hope to make unless their intention going in is to collide with the driver on the outside. Don’t get me wrong. I like to see racers mix it up a bit, but I’m not seeing much amazingly skillful driving. I’m slowly coming to the point where I might start thinking that a spec-car F1 with less aero, more suspension and a chance for outstanding drivers to shine might be an improvement over what we have.

  15. Phil4sport said on 5th August 2010, 17:00

    Haug wants us all to forget the incident ever happened! After all Schumi’s apologised (that’s a first) & accepted his punishment. But when Hamilton weaved infront of Kubica (who was never in any danger) the story rolled on & on for weeks.
    Tuff tit Schumi, i think you’ll be in the news for a long time over this act of stupidity, arrogance, red mist, name it what you like.

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