Posted by FerrariFan on January 7, 2007

schumi.jpgFormula 1, as many have observed, is more a business enterprise than a sport, replete with the machiavellian manipulations et al – “The Piranha Club’ as it is called. The administrative body has indulged in favoritism and clear manipulation of results on numerous occasions, and seldom with the subtelity to go unnoticed. It is of course very well documented that teams spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year in an attempt to perform at the pinnacle of motorsporting technology, there are share holders to answer to, and boards of directors to satiate. Drivers themselves are driven egomaniacs, who put their lives at risk every second week, to experience the thrill of speed…the drug of competing and winning, to prove that they are the best at what they do. It is needless to point out the amount of pressure they operate under, a small mistake – a small lapse in concentration can undo weeks of effort from the team and its technical partners to forever keep pushing the boundaries of car development, in an effort to extract the last tenth-of-a-second of performance from the car and tyres – the package as it is called. The definition of team sport by any standards, the team consists of the driver, the engineers, the support staff, the mechanics and the employees at the factories striving to put the car together and to squeeze the last drops of performance from it…in the knowledge that a minor lapse from any one of them can ruin it all. The best driver in the world could still suffer a mechanical failure on D-day in front of a crowd of usually more than 100,000 (with tens of millions more watching on television) owing to a defect in a small component in the car. There is no doubt why F1 is the most watched sport on the planet with a truly international audience – the speed, the glamor, the technology, the pressure, the money, the big names – it has it all.

The sport also has more than its fair share of hypocrisy and double standards – an alarming level at that. Not just the administration, not just the teams, not just the managements or technical partners – but even the journalists who cover the sport. It has never been more evident than in the 2006 season, a gripping one in pure racing terms, but a forgettable one in every other respect. The last season of Michael Schumacher, the seven times world champion, saw him involved in more than one controversy, something that has dogged him throughout his career, infact from his very second race when he was snatched from Jordan and put in a Benneton. Over the past decade and a half, the sport has revolved around this one man, so incredibly talented that he has competed and finished in the top 3 of almost every championship season he has participated in except for 1999 when he broke his leg and had to miss 6 races. He has never finished a season out of the top 5. He has finished in the points 97% of all races he has completed. For a man who has rewritten every statistic and record in the history of Formula 1, it is of course pointless to dwelve into them. It would suffice to say that the “Michael Schumacher era” saw a period of cold, calculated ruthless domination of a supremely talented racer, reducing other teams and drivers to mere envious spectators an unmentionable number of times. Is that why he inspires such double standards in others – who always judge him with one yardstick and everyone else with another? Is it because of the indignation that a man with such obvious natural gifts should also have gotten to drive in competitive teams almost throughout his career – the combination of best car and best driver wreaking havoc on the confidence and efforts of other teams for the first half of the new millenium?

Take Monza, 2006 for instance. Fernando Alonso was demoted in the starting grid after having been deemed by the stewards as having obstructed Felipe Massa during the third session of qualifying. Subsequent replays exposed the decision as silly and baseless, as steward decisions usually go. It was quite universally accepted amongst the journalists and audience to be an unfair penalty, but nothing can justify the furore that followed. “FIA is Ferrari International Assistance” claimed a poster in the Renault camp, while their team principal Flavio Briatore openly accused the administrative body of favoring the Red team. “I no longer consider F1 a sport” whined Alonso famously, and he would later say “The good guys won” after winning the championship. Everyone is happy now that Alonso is champion, to them justice has been restored. But what of the 1994 season? Does anyone remember a young 25 year old Michael Schumacher (the same age as Fernando Alonso is now) being repeatedly penalized for trifling offenses as overtaking on the warm up lap / barge boards being worn out a millimeter more than regulations allowed owing to hitting the kerbs – and being disqualified from two wins and banned from two other races? He had threatened to run away with the championship with four victories in the first four races, and finishing second place in the fifth despite being stuck in fifth gear, and the interference from FIA was deemed to be ‘political cleverness’ to tighten up the championship. I am not saying the former justifies the latter, but I am just surprised that a mere 5 place penalty on the qualifying grid should raise such a fuss when being stripped of two wins and being banned from an additional two races a few years back didnt create a whimper. Perhaps Michael should have whined and made flamboyant statements to the media as some current world champions do – but it is characteristic of Michael to have taken the punishment and to have gone about his business without complaining on the fairness / unfairness of it. Or do two wrongs make a right? Perhaps the ‘cheating’ rumors that Benneton faced then (which were never subsequently proved) made it acceptable to enforce penalties on the team and driver without any media repurcussions. “Our only mistake was that at the time we were too young and people were suspicious” Flavio Briatore would later admit. Do I even need to add that when Michael got penalized in Monaco 2006, the stewards were acknowledged as an independant decision-making body, but in Monza, they were suddenly deemed to be colluding with the FIA?

So Renault had their mass dampers banned mid-season? Ferrari has survived through sweeping rule changes in 2003 and in subsequent years with the sole aim of quelling their winning streak. They were deemed to have made racing boring by having attained the zen of racing perfection, and in 2002, there were even serious talks of enforcing handicaps on the leading team by having weight penalties for every extra championship point carried. There was no doubt which team and which driver this was intended for, leading Fiat President Luca Di Montezemolo to threaten Ferrari withdrawal if the rule was enforced, and thankfully better sense prevailed.

“Team orders” is another Schumacher-centric controversy that is ridiculous to say the least. Team orders have existed since the sport began, Fangio used it, Senna spoke openly about it, and there have been numerous instances of blatant team order imposition over the years. So what caused Austria 2002? Perhaps the fact that Michael was already winning everything in sight, without being gifted the occasional win that he didnt quite deserve? Or perhaps the din already raised about Eddie Irvine being the contractual Number 2 in Ferrari from 1996 to 1999 compounded by Austria 2001 and 2002? In all honesty, is there anyone who seriously believes that Eddie Irvine or Rubens Barichello could have outperformed Michael Schumacher without team orders? I have never quite understood what is wrong for a team that spends close to half a billion dollars per year to mount a championship challenge, to optimize its efforts and concentrate on who was clearly one of the greatest drivers to have ever graced the sport.

Finally the 1997 Jerez incident. This to me, was the single biggest mistake that Michael made in his entire career, and one that would be used against him time and again over the years. (I don’t really count Adelaide 1994 because in my opinion Damon Hill wouldnt even have been competing for the championship without FIA intervention). He made a mistake a paid the penalty for it, many times over, apart from the crucifixion from the media over the long winter months and beginning of 1998. The journalists, who had been picking at trivialities and trying to make mountains out of molehills earlier, now had genuine ammunition. The man made an ethically challenged decision before a global audience, the fact that he was battling it out under immense pressure with a clearly inferior car is irrelevant. Never mind that Senna had done it before him. Never mind that Prost had done it too. Never mind that this is Ferrari we are talking about, and the expectations and pressure that goes with being a Ferrari driver, and the split-second he had to make the decision, as wrong as it turned out to be. Accepted that what he did was wrong, but hasnt he paid the price?

And so the double standards continue. We see articles coming out every day about the flawed genius, about the Diego Maradona of F1, about the ‘most unsporting driver’ in F1…the “Two sides” of Michael Schumacher as it is commonly known. But as a Formula 1 fan for many years, I see only one Michael Schumacher, I just see two sides to the media covering him and his activities. The Michael Schumacher that the fans love and adore is a simple man who just happens to be the best racing driver who ever sat behind a wheel, grounded and mature in his environment of glitz and glamour, with a real family he obviously cares for, and ruthlessly driven to win. Fellow drivers often grumble about how they could win too if they had the cars he had, but of course as always, they conveniently neglect his years of painstakingly building the team, facing year after year of coming tantalizingly close to the goal only to lose out in the end, of forging an unshatterable team spirit through it all, and pulling the team close together around him. He brought in the “One for all, all for one” spirit into Ferrari with his “I go if Jean Todt goes” declaration early in 1996. If he sat triumphantly in the cockpit in 2004 having won the championship with many races to go in a season of utter domination, it was not because of just driving the best car, but because of building the team that delivered the car, through a decade of slogging day and night towards a common goal. Who are we to begrudge him the rewards for his efforts? To a lot of us, Michael Schumacher will remain one of the greatest ever and a true inspiration…even with his supposed “flaws” and all.

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13 Responses to “Double Standards”

  1. FerrariFan Says:

    Thanks for the feedback Forza 🙂 Have a wonderful day!!

  2. forza Says:

    this is jus fantastic…not drab like the host of blogs which claim to represent the tifosi community..keep rolling the treads..forza!

  3. FerrariFan Says:

    Thanks Tempo, have a nice day!! 🙂

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