Op-Ed: Could next year’s changes work to Schumacher’s advantage?

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As the news settles in that Michael Schumacher will be back with Mercedes next year, I’m trying to decide if the rules changes in 2011 will benefit him — or not.

(Quite side note: Todd pointed out that the Mercedes GP Twitter piece confirming Schumacher said he’s going to be back “for at least one more season,” which still means he could cut out before the original three-year deal ends. Just something to file away.)

But looking ahead to next season and the new cars, my thought is: There’s going to be more goo-gahs, more buttons to push and things to mess with as KERS returns and the movable wings are added. (Not that there isn’t a ton already for the drivers to fumble with, especially as F-ducts are added to this year’s cars.)

Or maybe this is a better way to put it: There seems like there will be more “racing” things to manage, as KERS works as either a push to pass or push not to be passed button and the rear movable wing is wound up in the whole “the driver has to be so close to a car in front before activating the wing” rule.

Those sound like options that would play to Schumacher’s strength as a racer, as a guy who can battle wheel-to-wheel with the competition. If he’s seeing it the same way, then it makes sense to me that he’d come back and want to be focusing on perfecting next year’s car.

I certainly have in mind Steve Matchett’s recollections of how Aryton Senna helped do away with active suspension in Formula 1 cars because he knew that without the alterable ride height, his own driving skills would have more impact. As Matchett put it, it was to Senna’s benefit to make the driver as important as possible. And that meant getting rid of that particular technology.

So it feels like next year’s regulations will benefit Schumacher more than this year’s. Except for one thing.

There’s only one way to say.

His age.

Now this isn’t meant as a Schumacher hate piece. And it is not meant to play down what he’s accomplished in the past or what he’s accomplishing this year. It’s simple human nature.

Heck, it is human nature. As we get older — and I’m just about Schumacher’s age, so I know what I’m talking about — the glory of youth starts to fade.

It isn’t that we can’t still accomplish great physical feats. But getting to the same high points is harder, and there are definitely certain things that go first. Speed. Eye-hand coordination. Explosive muscle movement. A micro-second of brain reaction.

A few of those are pretty darn key to F1 driving, which is so on the edge and where the difference between the podium and no points can be a matter of seconds.

A 30-year-old Michael Schumacher, I reckon, would have wrecked havoc on the grid when given KERS and the movable wing. Those both would have allowed him to dive deeper into turns, to squeeze along side his competition and brake just that small, nearly imperceptible moment later. You know, the things that turn a man into a seven-time champion.

But that Michael is a decade gone. And while he is an extraordinary athlete, no one can fight off age. (See Lance Armstrong this year at the Tour de France.)

So I wonder whether these changes will work, really, to Schumacher’s advantage. Or will he be just a fraction slower — naturally slower — in hitting the KERS button or moving his wing than the Jaime Alguersuaris and Kamui Kobayashis with whom he’s battling?

To say nothing of Nico Rosberg.


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