The 2010 Formula 1 season has taught us two things, undeniably:
1. Passions run high about Lewis Hamilton, and especially about his aggressive versus too aggressive driving style.
2. Passions are equally inflamed by anything that has to do with Michael Schumacher, but especially by questions about whether he has lost his edge or if that edge always was more car than man.
Happily, we don’t have to touch No. 1. But the second… well, this time leave it up to Ross Brawn to provide us some words to dissect:
“I am very pleased with Nico we know we want to see some progress with Michael, it is not there yet – but you see snapshots of his performance and we need to put everything together. I am optimistic than next year we will have a better package generally, but a package that Michael will find a bit easier to use.”
This quote comes toward the bottom of a story at Autosport that focuses on Mercedes GP having turned its focus to its 2011 car while not wanting to lose out the fourth sport in the constructors race to Renault.
All that is what you’d expect: typical F1 chatter about being competitive, hating to have to stop fighting 212%, but looking to rebound next season.
Oh, and as the above quotation suggests, Brawn is plenty happy with Nico Rosberg. Who wouldn’t be? He’s just about outscored Schumacher 3 to 1 this season.
But it is Brawn’s last comment about Michael that catches my eye.
OK, first I’ll admit I’m likely sensitive to items that seem to speak to Schumacher’s current driving status/ability. But it’s not [paging Todd!] because I’m anti-Schumacher. It’s that I’m fascinated by any comeback by an all-time great. There’s a bit of schadenfreude about it, I’m sure. But I’m also always curious about how — when unarguably (in the sports world) the athlete’s body simply can’t be what it was — they adapt or alter themselves in response to their aging / been-out-of-the-game conditions. The same holds true for stars as they simply age — no need for a comeback, even.
Take one of the other famous would-be comebackers: Michael Jordan. His comeback with the Washington Wizards was probably on par with Michael’s. But I’m actually more interested in how he changed his game from the explosive, slam-dunk player — the one I think we all probably think of when we do think of him — to one who took more outside jumpers and, especially during his comeback, used his bulked up, late 30s body to pound away inside. We’re seeing the same transformation with Kobe Bryant right now.
So that’s what I’m interested in with Schumacher. Only with a driver, there is the added issue of the whole driver versus car dynamic. And there are now those among us who suspected the Schumacher would shine again — and as he fails to, they are beginning to question whether it was those awesome Ferraris all those years doing most of the hard work.
If Schumacher was (is?) so great, they argue, why can’t he dial it back in? Why does he need a car perfectly set up for him to be competitive?
Now, I don’t know if that’s a fair accusation. I do think Schumacher isn’t doing himself any favors by not wringing more out of the Mercedes GP car this season. And yes, I know about the tires and the understeer and this and that and etc. But it is hard to dismiss the notion that a 30-year-old Schumacher would have overcome the niggling quirks to this car and won a race or two.
And that brings me back to Brawn’s quote: “I am optimistic than next year we will have a better package generally, but a package that Michael will find a bit easier to use.”
Is that Brawn admitting that Schumacher no longer has the ability to drive a car to its limit that isn’t at least a “bit easier” for him to use? And I wonder if we being set up for a close battle in 2011 between Nico and Michael — only in a car that clearly favors the older German?
What’s tugging at me though is whether would Brawn even have conceived this idea a decade ago. Was the Michael Schumacher of 1991 a driver who needed a car that was easier? I suppose that answer is probably yes — and is for every driver — and that’s what development is all about. But would Brawn have said “easier” to describe the slow progression of making the car better?
You might say it’s just semantics, but I can’t get past Brawn’s choice of words and what might have driven him to put it that way and not something like “a package that fits Michael’s style.”
I guess, in the end, I’m having trouble getting around the idea that Brawn has just told us the current car is a little too hard for Michael Schumacher to drive. If he thinks that, doesn’t that say something about one of the sport’s all-time greats?