Michael Schumacher was the best driver of Formula 1 for over a decade after the tragic death of Ayrton Senna. Fans and experts widely regarded the German as the MAN in F1, the driver who was a cut above the rest, and it wasn’t until the emergence of Fernando Alonso that some started to question this status quo. Lewis Hamilton equalled and surpassed many of Schumacher’s records the last few years, but if I am being honest, I never really felt that the current crop of followers really regard him in the same way, whether this is fair or not I will not comment on, that Schumacher was in his day.
Yet, for all his greatness Michael Schumacher was also a very controversial figure during his illustrious career. Just like Ayrton Senna, Schumacher had a win at all cost mentality, that served to alienate a good portion of the followers of the sport.
His career is filled with incidents that made many question just what sort of a sportsman the German really was. In this article, I will take a look at these incidents.
Michael Schumacher arrived at the last race of the 1994 season leading his title rival Damon Hill by 1 point. The season was filled with controversy and tragedy. Schumacher’s Benetton team was accused by their rivals of cheating, and Schumacher was disqualified from several races for various incidents.
The last race was to bring on the further controversy. Schumacher and Hill raced long battle for the win and the championship, as who won the race was guaranteed to win the championship. Schumacher had the upper hand throughout the race and was leading his rival, if only by a very small margin. Yet despite his slight advantage, Schumacher made a small mistake on lap 35 and damaged his car. Hill, who was immediately behind his rival, tried to pass him, but the two collided, and Schumacher was launched into the wall and out of the race. Some believe that Schumacher’s car was already badly damaged and he had no business racing Hill anymore. It soon became obvious that Hill’s car was also badly damaged, and he was forced to retire, handing the title to Schumacher.
Accusations were soon exchanged, and many were convinced that Schumacher took the title by deliberately colliding with Hill.
Despite the German’s brilliance behind the wheel, some of his teammates believed they did not receive the same attention from the team when they were Schumacher’s treatments. Johnny Herbert complained that he was treated as an N2 driver during 1995 by Benetton, Rubens Barrichello was also critical of Schumacher and Ferrari after he left the team. Jos Verstappen outright questioned whether Schumacher was using the banned driving aids in 1994, as he could not otherwise make sense of the huge gap that existed between himself and the German.
Pride no doubt played a part in these accusations. Another teammate of Schumacher, Eddie Irvine, never questioned the team’s treatment of him and put down the large gap between himself and the German to Schumacher’s brilliance. Interestingly Irvine was the teammate of both Herbert and Barrichello, and if one makes the cross-comparison between them, and their records against Schumacher, the results are very similar.
Nonetheless, there were incidents when the teammates of Schumacher were forced to give up positions for him. In 1997 Eddie Irvine was forced to give up a win to let Schumacher pass him and later block Villeneuve. In the 2001 Austrian GP, Barrichello let Schumacher pass for second, while a year later, he gave up a win for his teammate at the same venue.
Going into the final race of the 1997 season, Schumacher once again arrived leading the title race by 1 point, this time from Jaques Villeneuve.
Some feared that a repetition of 1994 could happen if the two found themselves racing each other wheel to wheel. Villeneuve and his camp tried to put as much pressure on Schumacher as possible by repeatedly referring to the Adelaide incident.
Villeneuve took pole position, but Schumacher was immediately behind him. Schumacher had a much better start and passed Villeneuve immediately. The two had a race-long battle for the win, and Schumacher had the upper hand until the 47th lap when Villeneuve attempted a move to pass his rival.
The Canadian went alongside his rival, and when Schumacher saw him, he first tried to steer away, only to quickly steer into Villeneuve. The accident pushed Schumacher into the gravel and out of the race, while Villeneuve was able to continue with a damaged car. Villeneuve limped home in third to win the title from the German.
Outrage followed the incident and Schumacher was subsequently disqualified from the 1997 Championship, as a punishment for his unsportsmanlike behaviour in the last race. Schumacher later admitted his guilt, but he also stated that other people won championships this way in the past, notably Senna in 1990, and they were not punished, so he believed that his move was within the limits of the sport.
The 2006 Monaco GP was the seventh race of the 2006 season, and Fernando Alonso arrived at the race as the leader of the Driver’s Championship. He had a hefty lead over Michael Schumacher, who was trailing Alonso by 15 points.
Schumacher no doubt was worried that he had to make up ground, and quickly, for him to stand a chance of besting Alonso. The Ferrari men had a decent lap in his first attempt of the final stages of the qualifying session and was first, followed by Alonso.
His second lap was nowhere near as good, unfortunately, and he no doubt realised this. As he was running ahead on the track, and his rivals were following him, an accident and yellow flags would have forced his rivals to slow down, which could have given him the pole position.
The accident happened soon afterwards, as Schumacher parked his car in the penultimate corner. As the rest were forced to slow down, nobody was able to beat Schumacher’s initial time.
Unfortunately for Schumacher and Ferrari, his move and his already shaky reputation as a sportsman worked against him. Outrage followed the qualifying session, and high-profile figures like former world champion Keke Rosberg, title rival Alonso and others questioned his move and demanded his disqualification.
The stewards soon started to investigate Schumacher’s move and deemed that the accident was deliberate. Schumacher was disqualified from the session for his unsportsmanlike behaviour and started the race from 22nd(last).
Schumacher was also known throughout his career for his aggressive driving. One of his trademark moves was to chop off other drivers on the start when he had a slow start.
His aggressive driving style made him very difficult to pass, and his competitors showed their displeasure at the German’s driving antics on numerous occasions. In the 2000 French Grand Prix David Coulthard showed his rival the middle finger when he passed him. In the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, Mika Hakkinen waved at his rival when he nearly put him on the grass when he tried to pass Schumacher.
Juan Pablo Montoya was another one who was left angered by Schumacher’s antics on numerous occasions, and even called him blind in a press conference, when the German claimed that he pushed Montoya onto the grass because he did not realise he was making a move on him.
These were just some incidents, but there were plenty of others throughout the years which brought Schumacher critics and sometimes even penalties from Race Control.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2022 Andrew Szekler