It’s been a difficult seventeen years onboard the Michael Schumacher rollercoaster. From deviously evil genius, to laid back mellowed out grandfather of the grid, he’s been one of the constants in my Formula One lifetime and, in a turnabout to my previous opinions, I’m going to be sorry to see him go.
My formula one watching career is only surpassed by Michael’s driving, I joined the television circus in the summer of 1995, I was fourteen.
My first memories of Michael are of arrogance, aggressive self belief to the point of narcissism. He was hard faced, he didn’t care about anyone except himself, both on the track and off it. He strutted about the paddock, exuding importance (unsurprising given that this was his second Championship clinching year) and I hated him.
He became as sinister to me as childhood baddies, the man who would crash into his competitors to end a race on his terms. That meant he didn’t know if he could win surely? Was he as self assured as his gait suggested? I watched Damon Hill’s title year from the relative safety of behind a pillow, but that year he was safe, the Ferrari F310 was abismol, and the only real challenge came from Indy Car transfer student Jacques Villeneuve, who’s hopes ended on three wheels in the Suzuka gravel. Schumacher finished a lowly, yet thoroughly respectable (given the equipment) third.
Just as you thought it was safe to head out onto the racetrack however, he was at it again! The 1997 season saw Michael get back to his old tricks once more; as he battled Jacques Villeneuve for the title. This year was a little different to 1994, it was not Adelaide and the points weren’t stacked in his favour. With the eyes of the world watching him, he took a swipe at the Williams of Villeneuve around Estoril’s ‘Dry Sack’ corner. From behind my cushion (for the second year running) I slammed my eyes shut and waited for Murray to confirm my fears; that Jacques was out of the race. The opposite occurred, and karma seemed to have finally come back to haunt Michael, his wheel’s spinning uselessly against the gravel. He was beached, and deservedly so.
Over the years, Michael has won and won, over and over again, I was sick of him. Of course I know that if I had been a logical fan without the furious passion that thought he was a cheating scumbag things would have been completely different. He is a great of the sport, the Championships speak for themselves, and what he did with the late nineties, early noughties Ferraris was a feat only a few men could have performed. Think about this season, everyone’s praising Alonso for the way he handles his car, the 1997 F310 was a pig on wheels!
Cue the U-turn.
The Michael Schumacher of 2012 is modest, chilled out and ready to apologise when he makes a mistake. Since his return there hasn’t been one sniff of a win on the horizon, eeking out one podium in Valencia – despite me wishing it in 2011 at Canada.
The last two Grands Prix I have been to have filled me with a weird sensation when he’s driven past. I found myself feeling particularly honoured to be sitting beside the track while he drove past. I suddenly seem to appreciate him more, because to me he’s proved that there was a human being underneath all the controversy.
Thanks Michael, it’s been an experience.