Did Schumacher Follow Senna’s Controversial Style?
Following on Senna’s Footsteps
Senna was arguably one of the most charismatic drivers of the F1 world. He had all the ingredients of a champion in him, including his driving technique, his life in the paddock, life outside the racing world and his impact on millions of kids, including a certain Schumacher. That Schumacher would soon follow him into the F1 world.
While the title gives away what we intend to do, we will look at examples objectively. The more we look at patterns, the more evidence we find that a rookie Schumacher took to a style of driving, which at times wasn’t required for his immense talent. The hunger for more made him accept certain things he had seen being practised by the top echelons of F1 when he was a rookie.
But Senna’s time was unlike Schumacher’s. Senna repeatedly found himself on the receiving end of the FIA boss, who at that time had an inclination towards one driver. This caused Senna to revolt against the system. If the system was fair, like it was for Schumacher, chances were that Senna wouldn’t have tried a few of the things he did. But let’s remember that it was not just Senna, but also Alain Prost who gave the F1 world some wrong examples.
Before we get on to the discussion, let’s admit that we are talking about three F1 greats. They have 14 world championship between them (Senna-3, Prost-4 and Schumi-7) and 183 wins (Senna-41, Prost-51 and Schumi-91), so whether we like it or not, they were, are, and will be legends.
1. Crashing Out With Opponents
The Prost-Senna Saga
Talking about 1989 season, everybody remembers the Prost-Senna saga, where at one of the turns at the Japanese Grand Prix, Alain Prost turned early and hit Senna. Both of them were title contenders, and until that point, the contest was civil. But after this incident, a bad precedent begins.
Take a look at the incident.
There have been many discussions on what happened here and who is to be blamed or not. So, we will spare that discussion and look at what happened in the following year.
Surprisingly, in the following year, in the same circuit, there is a crash at the beginning of the race at the first corner. The cars involved are Alain Prost’s Ferrari with Ayrton Senna’s McLaren. The only difference is that it appears that Senna crashed into Prost.
Here is the video of the race.
The result is that both Senna and Prost were out of the race, and Senna became the world champion. This race was the last race of the 1990 season.
Now, why are we looking at these videos? Well, for one, in both cases, there was hardly any action taken on the drivers. 1989 saw Senna being disqualified despite winning the race, but the 1990 crash did not find Senna or Prost guilty. I mean, if there is a crash, then someone is wrong, correct?
But what this did was set up an example that people can get away doing non-sporting stuff. Guess who picked it up? None other than Michael Schumacher. Or so it seems.
Did You Know?
By the time Michael Schumacher debuted in F1 in 1991, Senna was already a double world champion and was poised to win the 1991 season, as well. Of course, now we know that Senna won the 1991 season too!
Similar Incidents With Michael Schumacher
Let’s fast forward to 1994. We lose Senna in Imola (most significant loss to F1) and the season proceeds with Senna’s partner Damon Hill’s Williams fighting Michael Schumacher’s Benetton. The final race of the season in Australia witnesses Schumacher hitting the wall and in what appears to be veering towards an overtaking Damon Hill.
Take a look at the video here.
Again, there were many discussions on this particular incident, and yet no action was taken. In fact, in my own opinion, this seems to be a mistake more than a deliberate event. However, that is just my opinion.
But what it did was reinforce the belief that drivers can get away with this act.
And I presume the same thing comes to haunt Michael when he pulled the same stunt on Jacques Villeneuve in 1997.
Take a look at this video.
In fact, even before we could say anything about the video, we would have heard the commentators talking about the 1994 incident. More importantly, the outcome was that Michael was stripped of his points. Instead of finishing second, he was disqualified.
The stripping of Michael’s points ensured that such incidents were never repeated; such an incident never ever happened again after 1997. But why did this not happen in 1989? If it had, then Senna would have won that year, and no one would have thought of getting away with questionable driving tactics. Ironically, it is Senna himself aping the 1989 incident in 1990 and getting away too. It seems to be poetic justice, but it definitely was not a good example for the youngsters.
Michael seems to have followed these footsteps and somehow got away in 1994 while getting the wrong end of the stick, finally, in 1997. Nonetheless, I am still his fan and am only attempting to show that it appears that he had picked up some wrong examples.
2. Driving Off the Opponent
Schumacher-Barrichello | Hungary, 2010
How many times have we seen Schumacher trying to drive an opponent off the track? That is something even Mika was unhappy about when he overtook Michael in the epic race in Spa in 2000.
Take a look at one more video of Schumacher almost blocking Barrichello in 2010. Schumacher was racing for the Mercedes team when he came out of his retirement the first time.
Phew, that was close! Schumacher did mention after the race that he did not know that he got Barrichello so close to the wall. This was just one of many examples and not a single incident of such manner was ever pulled up by the FIA.
But at one point, when Schumacher thought that these were unsporting moves, he was at the receiving end of such moves. And who handed them to Schumacher? The legendary Senna himself.
Let’s look at the 1993 South African Grand Prix.
Suggestion: Watch from the 7:30 minutes mark.
So, what did you see? Well, that was Senna in the McLaren ever so gently getting a young Schumacher off. Schumacher then stalls the engine and is out of the race. Hmm.
Here is another incident involving Senna in a McLaren and Schumacher in a Benetton.
What did you see? Senna coming out of the pits and immediately goes to close the door while Schumacher just about edges past over the grass.
Some similarities there, isn’t it? I am not for a moment judging the moves, but I'm just saying that Schumacher did the same, albeit a bit more aggressive.
3. Early or Erratic Braking
Schumi-The Early Braker
Many of Schumacher’s pursuers in an F1 race complained of erratic braking, which is a tactic to slow them down or to create uncertainty in the opponents' minds about overtaking. There are not many videos available out there, but I remember Mika Hakkinen speaking about it in one of his post-race interviews in either the 1998 or 1999 season.
So, why are we discussing this? Well, Schumacher once also complained about the same thing. Only back then he was a rookie, and he was complaining in the post-race interview about three-time world champion Ayrton Senna.
Have a hear.
Schumi - The Victim of Early Braking
Suggestion: It's in a different language. You can mute and see the subtitles.
So, there are three different areas of driving tactics for which Schumacher is notorious for that seems to have had its genesis much earlier on the race track itself. He was an excellent student of these examples and put it to use where he thought he would have to depend on it.
That’s basically the point of showcasing these three examples. At least now we would be fair in our assessment. If Schumacher is wrong, then so are the others before him. However, if he is right, then so are the ones before him.
The best thing, though, is that we don’t have to judge at all. In doing so, life and love for F1 would continue unabated!
Back to the Garage
Despite the not so great examples from the lives of the racing legends we just saw, nothing takes away from them their genuine application of themselves at the race track. Not many drivers out there have won three, four or even seven world titles. This article should be remembered as an aberration to these drivers’ habits and not a rule.
In saying so, the rule was to race outright and win. And I am sure that’s what all three drivers did!
Questions & Answers
© 2019 S K