The rage for victory

AP

Michael Schumacher's obsession for winning borders on monomania. His detractors have tried in the past to baulk him with accusations of foul play, but the true fighter that he is, the German has come out of the muddle doubly strong, writes G.Raghunath.

To the millions of Michael Schumacher fans the sense of d�j� vu must have been exhilarating as they watched the Ferrari driver on the podium in Nuerburgring, leaping in the air and then throwing his robust arms forward, with the index fingers pointing out to the crowd as if to indicate he had done it once again. The European Grand Prix victory, coming immediately after the thrilling win in the San Marino GP in Imola, meant that Schumacher had his feet firmly on the pedals for another tilt at the World Championship this season.

The fact that Schumacher finished second, behind Fernando Alonso of Renault in the Spanish GP at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona on May 14, no doubt puts him adrift of the reigning champion by 15 points in the drivers' standings, but the German still fancies his chance this year, and one cannot fault him for that.

When compared with last year, Schumacher, with four podium finishes in six races so far this season, appears fully galvanised. He even didn't mind dropping two points in Barcelona. "You can't win every race. It is eight points. At certain moments you have to accept what's possible and what's not. Some races I'm happy to gain two points, now I'm reasonably happy to lose two. There's still a long way to go," said the German, who had just one victory, that too a farcical one in Indianapolis last year after the leading teams pulled out over a tyre safety row, leaving just six cars on the starting grid.

If that wasn't really meant to be a warning to Alonso, it certainly spoke for Schumacher's resolve. As he had declared at the start of the season, the seven-time World champion wants to add another title to his kitty and he would do whatever it takes to get it, albeit his age. And the argument here could well be Nigel Mansell winning the world title in 1992 at the age of 38. Mansell himself is of the view that Schumacher, at 37, is good enough for another title and his age is not a deterrent. "He is a young pup in comparison," Mansell told BBC recently.

Schumacher's ever burning rage for victory is something people in the circuit are still in awe of. It's a kind of obsession that borders on monomania. His detractors have tried in the past to baulk him with accusations of foul play — in 1994 he was accused of colluding with his team Benetton in cheating and using illegal aids on his car — but the true fighter that he is, he has come out of the muddle doubly strong. Schumacher had no qualms about trying to run Canadian Jacques Villeneuve off the track in an insidious manoeuvre in Jerez, Spain, in 1997; he wasn't embarrassed about the victory he seized from his Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello in 2001 following team orders or didn't show as much subtlety as to hide his delight after Mika Hakkinen's engine blew up on the homestretch and handed him a fluke victory in the 2001 Spanish GP. To him winning was all that mattered. Schumacher said then: "Victory is a great emotion. I drive for this reason. This is my goal."

But what really underlines Schumacher's class is his immaculate driving skills. According to former World champion Jackie Stewart, no driver of the current generation understands his car as well as Schumacher does. And it's this appreciation that enables him to whip his engine to the extent it can withstand the workload and steer it to the chequered flag. Another facet of Schumacher is his faultless work ethic, which has endeared him to his team crew. The way in which he has got his team to rally around him is remarkable. And this speaks very highly of his leadership qualities.

According to Ferrari team's sports director Jean Todt, Schumacher has created the kind of ambience in the team that has helped him perform to his best. This was reflected in the manner in which he controlled Formula One from 2000 to 2004 — he ruthlessly killed off his challengers as if they didn't deserve to run alongside him on the circuit. Schumacher's performance in 2005 was quite uncharacteristic, which his fans would only be tempted to term as an aberration. The problematic Bridgestone tyres, which didn't match up to the Michelin variety used by the other top teams such as Renault and McLaren, the one-set tyre rule, in addition to the slow cars considerably blunted Ferrari's challenge.

But this year, things have changed dramatically, and pleasantly too, for Ferrari and Schumacher. And with the new rules, allowing tyre changes during the race, in force, Schumacher has emerged as Alonso's major threat to his second successive world title.

Alonso, who at the start of the season said he feared Honda and McLaren more than Ferrari, has now changed tack after facing the fury of Schumacher's backlash in Imola and Nuerburgring. "Michael is the man to beat," he says.

If the way in which Alonso and Schumacher have fought up to now, especially in the Bahrain, San Marino and European GPs, is any indication the season ahead promises to be a humdinger.

As if to strike a discordant note at this juncture come speculations, thick and fast, about Schumacher's imminent retirement. Some fellow Formula One drivers have even likened him to a clown who refuses to stop even after having almost every record in the sport — the most World championships (seven), most race victories (86), most races won in a season (13) and most pole positions (66). However, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone has argued in the German's favour saying, Schumacher knows best when to stop. "Besides it's great for a driver of Schumacher's stature to retire while on top," he added. They say the difference between a clown and a jerk is that a clown knows when it's time to stop. And Schumacher is no jerk.

SCHUMI FACTFILE

Team: Ferrari Nationality: German Date of birth: 3-1-1969 Car No.: 5 Grand Prix entered: 238 World Championships: 7 (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004) Races won: 86 Pole position: 66 Podium finishes: 146 Points scored: 1287 Fastest laps: 70 First Grand Prix: 1991 Belgian Grand Prix First win: 1992 Belgian Grand Prix