Op Ed: Schumacher the story in Canada? Surely not!

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It’s not shocking. I have actually come to expect it. Most Schumacher fans have learned to live with the criticism and rhetoric often offered on website forums and even in the mainstream media (especially British). I’ve become numb to most of it and while I am a Schumacher fan, I also can be one of his biggest critics when he deserves it. I approach all drivers with as much parity as I can when sharing my opinion of their strengths and weaknesses.

I do find the recent Schumacher meat-grinder this week interesting. The Canadian Grand Prix was an exciting race. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton drove brilliantly alongside his also brilliant teammate Jenson Button. Red Bull slipped on the tactics mat and even Ferrari showed some signs of life in the more-than-capable hands of two-time champion Fernando Alonso. Both Force India cars were in the points, Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg was in the points and back on song for all intensive purposes, Toro Rosso was in the points and Lotus made the biggest jump in performance this year in the hands of Heikki Kovalainen.

With all of this action, why is the central news story coming from Canada about the pathetic driving and over-the-hill performance of Michael Schumacher? In deference to journalists, who have systematically dismembered him in the press this week, Schumacher’s notoriety is also his worst enemy when he is not performing on par with his own legacy. I can understand the raised eyebrow as the same media had to report year after year the stunning achievements of a man they were not entirely pleased with…That would be like drinking Watermelon beer if you were Paul Charsley.

It stands to reason that a sort of “come uppance” may be delivered now that Schumacher isn’t shining like his distant sun. Fair enough, I am capable of understanding that notion but I am less capable of understanding the critical thinking that has been jettisoned by the very writers and Schumacher-haters given the situation, time and nuance of F1.

Schumacher’s return was hailed as a potentially mighty comeback to pit the legend against the young guns of F1. Many agreed that if he succeeded, we’d all say “well of course…it’s Schumahcer’ and if he failed we would suggest that “he is older now and F1 has changed a lot”. That’s not what I’m reading. What I am reading are some fairly harsh comments. It’s not a big deal, Schumacher is a big boy and has been lambasted in the press for years so I know he can take it and as a fan, I am relatively numb to it by now.

While we are heaping on criticism, I am more reluctant to use Canada’s performance (an obvious drive of frustration for anyone who has ever watched Schumacher’s career) as a litmus test and final verdict of his comeback. Schumacher has a 3-year deal with Mercedes and I suspect that if the team gets the car hooked up for him, there may be a lot of crow to eat for the detractors. I don’t believe Schumacher has lost his skill in the face of such new, young and daunting talent. I think he has struggled with this specification of the car, tires and aero.

Fernando Alonso, who occupies Schumacher old seat at Ferrari, was the first in the new crop of drivers to beat Schumacher on fair ground. It was a challenge that Schumacher enjoyed and Alonso relished. I think the competitive spirit still thrives in Schumacher to this day and men like Tom Kristensen, Allan McNish, Rubens Barrichello and many, many others prove that age can win in the right car and the right circumstances.

The media felt compelled to take the opportunity to release a scathing diatribe on the old man and his lack of skill and dirty tricks…once again! Even F1B’s own Schumacher-hater SJ Skid couldn’t help himself from diving right in head first.

For my money, as a fan, I think it is too early to be dancing about on Schumacher’s grave. I believe that Mercedes could have another master force in F1 should they find a way to tailor the car to Schumacher’s liking. There is a “but” in my fanboi opinion however. That “but” is time. Mercedes may not have the time to get the car suited specifically for Schumacher and even if they could, it may be at the expense of Nico Rosberg which I can’t say is a very bright move. I rate Rosberg very highly and to be honest, I believe he himself could be challenging Alonso, Hamilton, Webber and Vettel for the title in the right car.

I would love nothing more than to see the veteran German rise again and lead his team to victory but I am realistic if he doesn’t. I don’t think he needs the tongue-lashing he is being given because of a bad weekend. Barrichello has one of those kinds of weekends very frequently now. Webber collided with his teammate and Trulli is the ghost of the 2010 grid. Pedro de la Rosa is floundering in the back and David Coulthard, who unleashed a bit of a bum burner op-ed today, decided to retire for the safe pastures of DTM (really DC? Likening Schumacher to a known adulterer? Come on mate).

I think the criticism is a tad over the top but fair enough. If you say his driving was wildly erratic and should have warranted his being sacked from F1 or penalized heavily so be it. I will mention that several people were doing a tad bit of weaving on Sunday and Schumachers frustration and subsequent drive was no different than others I have seen this year either from rookies or veterans.

The type of drive Schumacher gave us on Sunday was aggressive and in the face of all those who dared pass him (or who he passed). Other drivers of British persuasion have been praised for the aggressive, ragged edge driving that Schumacher is accused of on Sunday.

“He may play fast and loose — yesterday earning a black-and-white flag, a warning for ungentlemanly conduct after weaving to keep Vitaly Petrov’s Renault behind him — but the fact is that the bigger the mountain his team give Hamilton to climb, the faster he climbs it. And it is fantastic to watch.”

Alas, nationality always plays a role and while I was not that pleased with Schumacher’s drive on Sunday, I doubt he is either. Most likely for a host of reasons little of which have to do with his skills. I like Hamilton’s aggression just as I liked Schumacher’s aggression and Senna’s aggression. They make racing exciting. I also appreciate the smooth, systematic driving of Button, Prost and yes, my man Nick Heidfeld. I see both sides and appreciate all comers. That’s why I find the harsh language a bit over the top this week and will keep that in mind the next time Button, Hamilton or Alonso punts someone or gets aggressive due to frustration or just sheer determination.

I’ve read some apologetics and lots of praise for Anthony Davidson’s drive this weekend at Le Mans…just don’t ask Gavin or Collard.

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