Archive for 2012

★ Michael Schumacher: Modern F1 Personified

★ Michael Schumacher: Modern F1 Personified

Each Formula One fan will have his own opinions on Michael Schumacher, such is the mans polarising nature. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find any other Motorsport personality that has resonated with so many millions outside the sports vacuumed bubble. This summer I had the opportunity to visit rural India for some healthcare experience. The people there hadn’t heard of Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso or even Aryton Senna. Yet of Micheal Schumacher and Ferrari, they knew well.

There are “binders full of” records and achievements that one can tout of Schumacher. His era with Ferrari from 2000-04 saw a win percentage of 56% and a podium percentage of 77% He won more than every other race and was only off the podium less than once every 4 races. The majority will remember Schumacher as the Red Baron who ruled the pinnacle of Motorsport. Yet, in my view, that was not Schumacher at his very best.

Schumacher’s greatest achievement was his influence on the very sport itself. He was the purveyor of a tectonic shift gone under-appreciated in the undercurrents of his exuberance. The vast majority of the generation of young Formula One fans (which at the age of 20 I consider myself part of) simply haven’t been exposed to what I consider to be greatest display of sustained driving excellence in the sport’s history. Think an amalgamation of Vettel’s supreme excellence in 2011 and Alonso’s remarkable relentlessness in 2012. That was Michael Schumacher of the 1990s, especially in his early Ferrari days.

Formula One was a very different sport in the early ’90s. There existed this belief that a race weekend was compromised very much of two halves: the first qualifying where a driver would give it everything for one spectacular lap. The second the race, where a driver would sustain a paced, tactical battle of attrition with his competitors. One couldn’t possibly drive 60 laps akin to the fervent intensity of qualifying! Niki Lauda famously said “The secret is to win going as slowly as possible.” The exert minimum strain to best sustain your mental and physical abilities for the trials of a world championship.

Schumacher took that established norm and simply blew it out of the water. He brought an intensity to the sport never seen of before that took it by storm. Physically, he was a relative Arnold Schwarzenegger for the current grid of driver, who simply couldn’t respond. Damon Hill & Nigel Mansell recall incidences in their own career where towards the end of a race, their tiring muscles and dwindling concentration where no match for a rampaging Schumacher who would be driving each lap as if it was his last. He made it seem remarkably easy and wouldn’t even appear to break sweat at the end of some races. Asked about his early ascension on a SkyF1 program he simply noted:

 “Some people naturally talented. You need to beat them, by simply working hard. Harder tha anyone else.”

Today’s Formula One drivers train at altitudes, run triathalons and excessively manage their food and fluid intake. They’re all built like pro-altheles. That is a direct result of Schumacher’s influence of our very sport sport. He raised the bar and brought an off track component of fitness and training to maxmise on track benefits. Formula One today is a better, even more competive sport thanks to his contribution.

A Tale of Two Races – Brilliance Distilled

As is often the case with great sport stories, the circumstances in place viewed retrospectively suit the protagonist. Shumacher’s notion of racing flat out was a perfect match for low fuel sprint racing of the time. He was a famous critic of the Pirelli tyres on his comeback, since he had to lend more effort into managing tyre life instead of pushing the limits of the car itself. The best demonstration of Schumacher’s speed and determination was shown at Hungary 1998. Battling the quicker McLarens of Haikkenen and Coulthard, Schumacher was relegated to a third and effectively championship challenge ending position. The Ferrari pit crew, lead by Ross Brawn gambled on Schumacher’s racing finesse and opted for a three stop strategy asking for a tall order: making up around 25 seconds in 18 laps. Schumacher delivered. And then some. Each following sector was faster than the last, leaving a trail of purple on the timesheet. He lapping constantly 1.5 seconds faster than the whole field, even faster than his qualifying pace.

Schumacher’s first victory for Ferrari is perhaps his very finest. Rain. The perennial equaliser of machinery and appraiser of inherent talent. The 1996 Spanish Grand Prix saw Schumacher lapping a whole three seconds faster in a car which was over a second slower in the dry. In conditions which led to just 6 cars finishing the car. It was a performance best described as ’Senna-esque’ which earned him the title “Regenmeister”.

The Schumacher-Ferrari era

Schumacher’s utter dominance in the early 2000s doesn’t sit well with passionate Formula One fans. Some have always highlighted the above advantages and doubted Schumacher. They feel a sense of pride being “in the know” of the real in-depth aspects of Formula One. The ones who’d tell their mates down in the pub in 2004 “He’s not as good as he looks you know”. It’s simply true: Schumacher held signficant advantages during that tenture at Ferrari: Bespoke, custom built, durable Bridgestone tyres; a private test team and test track (Fiorano) to endlessly test new parts; a clear ‘second driver’ and of course, the colossal budget of the prancing horse.

However, just as true were the significant disadvantages Ferrari had in 1996. “Truck”, “pig”, and “accident waiting to happen” here the labels conjugated to the uncompetitive Ferrari’s of the early nineties by Alain prost. The poor performance of the Ferrari pit crews was a running joke amonst mechanics.

Schumacher became a beconing leader for Ferrari, a figure with the gravitas of consecutive world championships looked up in admiration by every engineer at Maranello. A true team player, along with Jean Todt and Ross Brawn Schumacher simply brought about one of the most remarkable transitions in F1 history. You don’t simply “chance into” into a good team – you galvanise and build it piece by piece. Hamilton’s remarking on his own voyage with Mercedes, hoping the replicate the same efforts.

Let his dominant machinery not not detract from the talent and efforts of a remarkable individual who had more than proven his credentials well before he bored many into irrational anger towards him. Eddie Jordan recalls a young Schumacher testing an F1 car for the very first time at Silverstone and within the space of an hour lapping faster than Jordan’s race drivers.

Legacy

307 races spanning a period of time greater than my lifetime. Competing and beating Senna, Prost, Mansell, Haikkenen, Raikkonen and Alonso. Attaining a collosal seven world titles – the amount of Senna and Prost combined.

Some have questioned whether he’s tarnished his legacy by competiting with Mercedes from 2010. There have certainly been dissapointments in the comeback. I’ve covered the trials, tribulations and failures of Mercedes in a separate article but retrospectively, it’s obvious to see the appeal of Mercedes for Schumacher. An automotive goliath, deeply ingrained in German culture that enabled his entry into the sport he dominated giving him the opportunity to compete against what was hailed as the best grid of drivers? You can see how Ross Brawn appealed to Schumacher’s inner competitive soul.

Still, it takes some skill for a 43 year old to drag a below-par car onto pole position at the hardest circuit and beating drivers half his age. His luck and reliability this year have been nothing short of atrocious – 5 retirements in the first 7 races where the Mercedes was even slightly competitive.

Here’s a confession – I was never a Schumacher fan growing up. I was an ardent supporter of the ‘Flying ‘Finn’ Mika Häkkinen and vivdly remember cheering in disbelief that overtake at Spa 2000. The Finn’s lighthearted character clashed with the German’s steely nature.

Thanks to his comeback and onset of maturity at the solem age of 40, you saw a more human Schumacher in his comeback. Not a charecterised part-driving machine where breakneck competition was the only was forward. There no incidents like Jerez 1997 or Monaco 2006. He’d always have a charming smile on his face on good or bad days, referring to “his boys” and the work they were putting in at the factory. He won me over and I found myself cheering for him at Canada 2011 and all throughout 2012. The more I researched and looked up on him from the ’90s, the more impressed I became. I may not be a fan of him, but I can appreciate incredible showcases of driving masterclass when I see them.

Schumacher-the-driver’s legacy will always remain untarnishied. The present can’t change the past and won’t erode on scaresly believeable performance such as Spain 1996. In his comeback, Schumacher-the-human rose to the top.

This long article (thank you for reading this far) is a homage to the man who defines and personifies modern Formula One: the good, the bad and the ugly. The dominance, the struggles and the controversies. The likes of Sebastian Vettel, Nico Rosberg and Nico Hulkenburg credit Schumacher’s achievements as their key inspiration for the sport. He took Formula One in Germany from a fringe sport to the nation with the most drivers currently on the grid and third on the all time list of championships. His influence on the sport in simply unquestionable.

In an interview with Top Gear whilst masquerading as the legend Stig, when asked why the retired at the end of 2006 he said he had simply nothing more left in the tank to give. He also joked “I missed curry too much” referred to his strict diet during his driving.

Michael Schumacher, thanks for the memories. Have a nice curry with your family on us, the Formula One community.


Liked this article? I sincerely thank you for reading it all the way through. You can read some of my best articles here and you can follow me on twitter at @literalf1. I’ll be writing many more like these so I’d like it if you check back here for new ones or if you prefer immediate updates, subscribe to the RSS feed.. Lastly, if you want to know more about me or this website, visit the About Page.

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November 24, 2012 2 comments Read More
Abu Dhabi 2012: Featured Photo

Abu Dhabi 2012: Featured Photo

The making of two deserved triple world champions and enigmatic return of one

Unpredictable, exciting, exhilarating and beautiful.

November 5, 2012 0 comments
★ Pre-Vettel decision thoughts on Stewarding

★ Pre-Vettel decision thoughts on Stewarding

Post Decision Update – Opposite of Hamilton

Vettel was indeed penalised and excluded from the qualifying session. However, it’s interesting to note what for. There are two facets to this story:

  1. Force Majeure: The stewards accepted Red Bull’s reasoning for force majeure – they argued not stopping the car could use significant engine damage. That allowed them to stop the car on the track with no penalty.
  2. Fuel Sample: However, the fuel sample produced was 850ml. This is a clear infringement of the rules and hence the penalty. Red Bull argue there is enough fuel in the tank but rules state it needs to be extracted without any removal of bodywork.

So in essence this is exactly the opposite of what happened to Hamilton. Hamilton’s fuel sample was satisfactory (>1 liter) but the stewards didn’t buy McLaren’s force majeure. Here they did buy Red Bull’s force majeure but they didn’t have enough fuel.

The penalty and end result is the same but I thought my readers would be interested in this difference.


The Stewards’ decision on Sebastian Vettel’s parked car post-qualifying car is bound to be controversial. Almost four hours after the incident, we still don’t have a decision, conclusion and explanation. Whatever their final decision, I strongly believe we should respect it, regardless of own personal allegiances to any driver or team. The steward’s have access a whole database of information us fans aren’t privy too. They’re lead by the remarkable & highly respected Charlie Whiting who I have full faith in being fair & objective.

After a similar incident with Lewis Hamilton at Spain earlier this year, I wrote an article analysing the situation & listing the facts which was well received. I swayed away from personal opinion & wrote about the situation in an objective, holistic & unbiased manner. Here is my rendention of the same for today’s incident based on what Christian Horner revealed to the BBC’s Gary Anderson: that it was a “fuel issue”.

My stance will stay the same regardless of whether Vettel is penalised or not since this is an article focused on the anatomy of a decision, not the decision itself.

Things are never clear cut in Formula One and failure to produce a fuel sample not an automatic perogative for an exclusion from the session (hence starting last). Hamilton’s decision in Spain is not a precedent for the same here at Abu Dhabi. Here’s the FIA Technical Regulation 6.6.2 that enlists the requirement of a fuel sample:

“Competitors must ensure that a one litre sample of fuel may be taken from the car at any time during the event. “Except in cases of force majeure (accepted as such by the stewards of the meeting), if a sample of fuel is required after a practice session the car concerned must have first been driven back to the pits under its own power.”

The keyword here is one that I tend to dislike: force majeure It’s literally defined as “superior force”, one outside the normal realms of control. The reason I dislike the term is because of its highly subjective nature. The regulation in itself states the stewards need to be satisfied & consider whether they think reasons presented by the team constitute force majeure.

In Spain, the stewards clearly didn’t consider McLaren’s problems with their external fuel delivery system adequate force majeure. It’s important to note that “stewards” aren’t a consistent, homologous body of individuals. No, they change race-by-race! So naturally, their collective opinion of what is force majeure changes race-by-race. It’s a design that’s guaranteed to produce inconsistency. Time will tell what the group in Yas Marina settle for as “force majeure”.

As I stated on twitter, there is a big difference between putting less fuel into the car (Lewis, Spain) thanks to an external problem & a mechanical fuel problem internal to the car itself. This is a hypothetical guess based on what possibly could delay the decision to such extent. If were a Red Bull lawyer paid to argue & protect our teams world championship titles, I would move heaven and earth to come up with a loophole as such to plead/persuade the stewards to grant an exemption of force majeure. That’s why we saw both Christian Horner and Renault track operations chief Remi Taffin headed to the stewards office.

Today’s decision is incredibly tough thanks to the trifecta of a big grey area involved, it’s huge impact on the world championship and the inherant inconsisties of F1 penalties. Whatever the end decision, please respect the stewards and know their limits.

November 3, 2012 1 comment Read More
Hulkenburg & Ferrari

Hulkenburg & Ferrari

Nico ‘The Hulk’ Hulkenburg put to end the constant paddock rumours by signing for Sauber yesterday.

It’s an interesting move from Hulkenburg, whom I believe is the best “young” driver currently on the grid. He has great qualifying speed, a wet pole position to his name (always a marker of a great driver) and is beating the highly regarded and settled Paul Di Resta at Force India.

I reckon there is some some strong Ferrari influence present behind this move. Sauber isn’t necessarily even a move “up” from Force India. Yes, they’ve performed well this year but the main man behind this year’s car (James Key) is no longer present at the team. Force India over the last 3 years have been rather consistent with performance. But Sauber have historically been a ‘stepping stone’ for Ferrari (who supply their engines).

A lot of people believe Vettel will drive for Ferrari come 2014. Whilst I’ll address this issue in detail in another article, but in short: I don’t think he will. I agree with Montezemolo when he says:

“Two roosters in the hen house I do not like and it only creates an imbalance and tension. Harmony in a team is the most important thing and even more so in difficult times when all you need to do is recover.”

Hulkenburg is who I see partnering Alonso at Ferrari should Felipe Massa not perform well in 2013. He’ll be a challenging and reliable team-mate who can win races and garner constructors points.

Alonso will most likely retire in 2016 which will then pave the way for the Vettel era at Maranello…

November 1, 2012 1 comment
India 2012 Featured Image: And Then There Were Two…



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Indian GP Featured Photo: And Then There Were Two…

A superb, dominant Vettel & a majestic, relentless Alonso. With three races to go, it’s a straight fight between the best drivers in F1 for a coveted third world championship title.

October 28, 2012 0 comments
Amiable Vettel on India

Amiable Vettel on India

Sebastian Vettel has now won both the Indian Grand Prix. He was asked about his feelings on India as a country in the post-race (non podium) press conference. His response was simply beautiful:

India has a lot to offer. There are a lot of people here: 1.3 billion or more so quite incredible and just to see that, to see how people live here, to see the culture, I think is very very different. In life, I think a lot is always about expectations and in Europe expectations are very very high. Money plays a big role whereas here, I think, expectations are fairly low. Money is not that important. It doesn’t matter how old you are. I think it’s more important to have a healthy, happy life, to enjoy your life with your family, with your kids. Sometimes to compare the circumstances you live in, here in India compared to Europe – obviously I grew up in Germany – it’s black and white, it’s very different but it’s nice to see that the people are so happy, warm-hearted. I think it would definitely be nice to spend a little bit more time to travel around and get more of an idea.

At Japan, he similarly acknowledged & respected their culture. On the podium he applauded Kamui Kobayashi’s third position & spoke a little Japanese. He was also brought to tears when Kate Walker reminded him he’d reached Jim Clark’s record of wins.

At Singapore, he dedicated his win to Professor Sid Watkins (both straight after in the car when he’s usually doing the crazy frog and on the podium), paying homage to his incredible work throughout the decades.

Say what you want about his finger & tendency to annoy/bore audiences with showcases of dominance, he’s such a amiable chap. A world champion the Formula One community is pleased to be represented by.

October 28, 2012 0 comments Read More
★ Gearboxes and 5 years ago…

★ Gearboxes and 5 years ago…

5 years ago to this day, Kimi Raikkonen took an incredible come from behind championship victory at Interlagos. Hamilton suffered a gearbox issue(Youtube Link) which put an end to his challenge.

Gearboxes have been silently instrumental in shaping this year’s championship thanks to a new cost-saving legislation requiring a single gearbox to last 5 races. Failure to do so would mean a 5 place grid penalty if a new one is taken before the race (hence ruining your race, as seen countless times this season) or a DNF (Hamilton at Singapore). Embedded below is a great video explaining the intricacies of a Formula One gearbox courtesy of Sky Sports F1.

The most fascinating statement from that video for me is James Allison’s comment how Sau Paulo is a circuit notorious for breaking gearboxes… It’ll be the very last race on the very last gearbox that some drivers (Vettel in particular) have.

I can’t help but feel there might be a case of history repeating itself this year… Red Bull and Vettel look set to dominate the next few races. There could well be a scenario where Alonso needs a Vettel DNF and a win to take the title come Interlagos. Felipe Massa always goes well around Sao Paulo and “co-operated” in 2007 to let Kimi take the victory. With his rejuvenated form (he was faster in Korea), could we see Massa having to “co-operate” again for Alonso?

I do hate it when factors outside the driver’s control affect his championship. But that’s motorsport. Vettel’s had many alternator troubles this year and I don’t wish him bad luck. The best title deciders are like those of Suzuka 1988 between Senna and Prost or 1998/2000 between Schumacher and Mika Häkkinen. Two elite drivers battling it out till the very end, lap after lap.

October 21, 2012 0 comments
Senna Wallpaper

Here’s a full HD wallpaper which I’d like to share with you all. It’s Senna (in my view) at his best – In the number 1 beautiful McLaren MP4-5 that contrasts vividly with his iconic yellow helmet. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this car in person- with it’s clean lines and massive rear tyres, it’s truly a sight to behold.

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October 20, 2012 0 comments
Jousting for Position

Jousting for Position

Jousting for position at Turn 1. Rosberg, Button and Perez.

(via Reddit)

October 18, 2012 0 comments
The ‘Massa’ Kerbs in India

The ‘Massa’ Kerbs in India

Felipe Massa had a torrid time at the inaugural Indian GP, twice hitting the “sausage kerbs” guarding the boundaries of the extremely fast turns in the middle sector. Much like the formidable Esses at Suzuka’s first sector, a driver’s rhythm is everything.

Massa complained last year asking for the removal of such kerbs. What did the Indian authorities do?

“We have added additional sausage kerbs to deter the drivers even more,” a BIC official told the Times Of India.

And they named them ‘Massa kerb’s! Hands down the best response to a driver complaint ever.

Good on them for doing so! It’s not unsafe & righty protects track limits which we see drivers regularly exceed.

October 17, 2012 0 comments