Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Schumacher Incident

How will history view Michael Schumacher?

This question, more than any other, seems to be the one that has come out of the somewhat sad developments at the Monaco Grand Prix last weekend. Up and down the pitlane, and all across the media, a picture is being painted of a future in which Michael's questionable etiquette overshadows his remarkable record of success.

Somehow I just don't see that happening. When it comes to sport and history, it's usually numbers that stand the test of time, not stories, and Michael's numbers are remarkable: more wins than anyone else (86), owner of six of the top ten most successful seasons, joint holder for record of consecutive wins, highest number of pole positions (66), highest number of fastest laps (70), highest number of podiums (143), most consecutive podiums (19), highest number of points finishes (175), most career points (1258), and, most importantly, more championships than anyone else (7).

Yes, his tactics could be called cheating. Yes, his single-minded focus could be called boring. Yes, he stalled his car deliberately to balk flying laps by other drivers on Saturday. Yes, he deliberately knocked Damon Hill off the track in Adelaide in '94. In 25 years though, only F1 anoraks will talk about that. Unlike Maradona's "hand of god", Tonya Harding's assault on Nancy Kerrigan or Ben Johnson's Olympic doping, Schumacher's behavior cannot be instantly branded as "cheating". He's a very smart man who knows how to get close to the blurry line between "unsporting" and "cheating" and is willing to go there. There will be no asterisks next to his sporting records, which is testament to his sharp mind but sadly not to his complete inability to grasp the concept of "fair".

Will this help Schumacher decide to quit F1? I hope so. Motor racing, probably due to the huge risk involved, has tended to be less susceptible to unsporting conduct than other sports. As such, none of us who consider ourselves racing fans want Schumacher's tactics in the sport anymore.

No comments: